Once upon a time there was a wandering knight. For as long as the knight could remember he searched for his purpose in life, travelling near and far. Even after decades of searching he never found it. One day he simply ceased to exist. For what good is a knight with no one to protect?
Ahiru stood nervously outside of Fakir's closed door. He had been all but avoiding her for a few weeks now. Staring down at the coffee she held in her hands, she tried to gather the courage to knock on his door. Maybe she was making everything up, but she couldn't help but feel he was upset with her about something.
'He'd have plenty of reason to be,' she thought bitterly.
She pushed all negative thoughts from her head and resolutely rapped at his door. "Hey, Fakir?"
"Not right now, I'm busy," came his voice from the other side.
There went her courage. "Oh…" She glanced at the hot beverage in her hands again. "I-uh, I have some coffee…"
"Just leave it outside the door."
Ahiru bit the inside of her cheek with a frown. Dejectedly, she set the platter with the mug outside his door. She waited just a moment before trudging back to her room.
Fakir groaned as he leaned back in his chair. His green eyes glared up at the uncaring ceiling of his room. His back ached from being bent over and his head hurt from the mental exertion. For more than three weeks now he had been looking into potential Princess Tutu sightings and all he had so far was an overheard story from a teenage girl who may or may not have been drunk when she supposedly saw a giant swan dance with a tree. Granted the story seemed credible, to him at least, since there did so happen to be the spirit of a mythical oak tree where she claimed to see it—but, it was still just an eavesdropped claim made by a girl who was most likely wasted.
He shifted uncomfortably. He should just be blunt and ask Ahiru about it, but he was reluctant. She'd probably think him foolish if he asked her about some drunk girl's rumor.
"It is Ahiru, though…" he muttered. She was pretty unassuming. She'd probably just laugh it off. Thinking someone foolish for taking stock in a rumor was more his shtick, and feel foolish he did.
He was more worried she'd be offended, like as if he was accusing her of something.
Or maybe he was more worried she was hiding something very big from him.
And maybe he wanted to have facts on his side before he confronted her.
He ruffled his hair in annoyance. He didn't want to think what any of this could possibly mean.
Fakir scowled at the newspapers stacked before him. He had been scouring the past three or so months' worth, but to no avail. Not even the insipid gossip columns held anything of any use. Maybe he was putting too much stock in the words of a girl whom not even her friend believed. And to think, right before he got caught up in some trivial rumor, he was looking into Ahiru's pendant. The writer sighed and straightened the stack out. It would be best if he returned these soon. Getting out of the house would be nice, too, even if it was just to go to the library.
Fakir gathered his things and carefully stuck the newspapers into his cloth bag. While slinging his bag over his shoulder he pushed his door open… and managed to knock over the steaming cup of coffee Ahiru had placed on the floor.
"Damn it!" Fakir cursed as he stared at the pooling liquid strewed across the floor.
"Fakir?" Ahiru poked her head out her door. "Are you alright?"
"Fine." Fakir retorted.
Blue eyes scanned the scene in the hallway, quickly assessing the situation. "Oh! Haha…" She scratched the back of her head. "I suppose I shouldn't've put it there…"
The young man exhaled heavily in response.
"I'll clean it up, okay? Since it was my fault… Sorta."
Fakir started, "You don't—" but it was too late, as she was already dashing down the stairs.
Or, falling, as it seemed by the sudden loud 'thumps' and shouts of pain.
Try as he may, Fakir couldn't stifle his ever-present concern for the awkward girl. "Ahi—"
"I'm okay!" her boisterous voice called out from downstairs. The sounds of her scrambling along resumed.
Fakir sighed, half in annoyance and half in relief. Moments later the duck-girl was on her knees in front of him, mercilessly sopping up the spilt liquid with a towel from the kitchen.
The girl in question laughed awkwardly. "Guess I should've put that against the wall and not your door, huh?" She nodded to herself. "Yeah, that would've made more sense. Don't know what I was thinking!"
The rag in her hands was stained a dark brown from the liquid and was only a teeny bit uncomfortably hot. She dropped the soiled cloth, withholding a wince, and looked up at Fakir. The smell of black coffee permeated the air.
"Oh? Are you going to the library?" Ahiru asked, eyeing the satchel hanging from his shoulder. "Can I go?"
"No." Fakir responded much too quickly.
Her reaction was instantaneous. Crestfallen, she glanced down at the dirty towel and watched the small wisps of steam rise and dissipate into the air.
Fakir ran his hand through his hair, trying to ignore the pit of guilt growing heavier in his stomach. "Just… not today. I have a lot of research to get done and I don't want any distractions."
A small light of hope flickered in her eyes as she looked back up at him. "I'll be quiet! Promise!"
"When have you ever been quiet?"
"I—!" Ahiru frowned, not sure how to even respond at this point.
"Ahiru…" Fakir could feel his will crumbling, but he couldn't let himself give in. "Not today, okay?" He paused before adding, "Tomorrow?"
He nodded resolutely. "Tomorrow, after I get back from helping Charon at the smithy. We can go for a walk." Fakir was relieved to see the light blaze back into her eyes.
"Okay, tomorrow!" She grinned up at him.
He bade her goodbye and set off for the library. Too much time has gone by without him getting anywhere. If his research today didn't yield any results, it was time he accepted the girl was just drunk and this is why you don't get involved in gossip.
His trek to the library took longer than usual, as his gait slowed with his heavy mind. All the same, he made it there and set about to do his work after returning his stack of newspapers to today's library attendant.
One of Fakir's favorite aspects of the library was the quiet. Not that he couldn't handle a little noise—anyone who lived with Ahiru and, once upon a time, Uzura, would grow accustomed to concentrating despite loud noises—but he appreciated it nonetheless. Especially with his growing stress headache.
The stack of newspapers sitting before him brought him up to date, and despite reading every word whether the article looked like it was relevant or not, he could find nothing that suggested anything related to Princess Tutu.
He probably should've given up sooner.
To the left of him sat the only copy of Prinz und Rabe the library owned. Fakir stared at it for a moment before he reached out and pulled the weathered tome to him. Having read the story more times than he cared to remember, Fakir flipped to the first page Princess Tutu was mentioned with memorized ease.
Not much was ever mentioned about Princess Tutu in the story. She was a tragic princess who loved the prince and was doomed to disappear in a flash of light should she ever speak her feelings to the one she loved. Really, Fakir wasn't sure why Drosselmeyer bothered making such a tragic story arc for a such a minor character who only existed for a few short passages in the original work. It was almost as if he intended to let the story go unfinished so he could not only bring the story to life, but give the biggest tragedy in the story a better chance at a larger spotlight. He shook his head as if to shake the very thoughts from his head. Surely Drosselmeyer didn't have that much foresight.
"Prinz und Rabe, again, Fakir?"
Fakir recognized that smug voice anywhere and could feel his headache intensifying already. "Autor."
"Why even bother pulling the book out? Surely you have it memorized by now." The purple-haired pianist set his hands on the table Fakir was working at and leaned forward. "Or is your memory that bad?"
Fakir didn't bother looking up from the book and turned the page. "Don't you have anything better to do?"
Autor didn't respond, prompting Fakir to glance up at him. The wannabe writer was inspecting the entire area, clearly looking for something. Or someone.
Suddenly feeling territorial, Fakir set the book down with a little too much force. "What do you want, Autor?"
Autor turned his head back to Fakir and focused on him. "So you did come alone, then?"
"Yes," Fakir ground out.
"What a shame," he straightened back up and shrugged. "I was hoping Ahiru would be with you. She's delightful, isn't she? Such a bubbly personality—quite the opposite of you, really."
"Get to the point, Autor." The last thing Fakir wanted to do was listen to Autor drag on about how cute Ahiru was and how unsuited Fakir was for her. 'Like Autor's any better suited,' Fakir thought contemptuously.
Autor clucked his tongue and pulled the chair across from Fakir out, ignoring the heated glare burning into his face as he sat down. "Nothing to get so worked up over, Fakir, I assure you." He paused and regarded the woodprint on the book across from him. A girl with wings for arms.
Fakir involuntarily followed suit, staring at the gentle curve of the prima ballerina's form. His eyes shot back to Autor, uncomfortable with how the other man was studying the picture.
"Studying Princess Tutu, are you?" Autor finally tore his eyes from the illustration.
"You know, I wrote a song about her once. Ahiru seemed to quite like it when she listened to my performance at Klavier." He grinned smugly at this.
Fakir rubbed absently at his left temple, willing this walking headache to leave him be. "I'm sure she did."
Folding his arms on the table, Autor leaned forward, his tone conspiratorial. "I used to think of her as nothing more than a device Drosselmeyer created to express hopelessness, specifically that of love—love doesn't conquer everything and can bring unrivaled suffering. She was such a minor character, what other purpose could she possibly serve?
"I'm starting to think Drosselmeyer's genius goes much deeper than that, though." Autor leaned back in his chair.
These fanatic rants of Drosselmeyer's so-called prowess were far past grating to Fakir. He ran his fingers through his bangs in aggravation. "I didn't ask for any discourse on the themes in the book."
Autor chuckled at this. "For someone who supposedly hates Drosselmeyer and his works so much, you certainly do read them a lot."
"You don't have to like an author or their work to respect their impact on the literary world," he countered.
Autor leaned forward again, this time resting his chin along his knuckles. "And any decent story enthusiast would seek an outside opinion, don't you agree?"
The dark-green haired man resisted the urge to throttle his unwanted smug companion. Sure, had he been writing on Drosselmeyer's work, exploring outside voices would be necessary, but that wasn't the case. All Fakir wanted were some answers—at the very least, a lead.
The purple haired man took his companion's silence as a victory. With a smirk he began to brag, "You know, unsurprisingly, as a potential heir of Drosselmeyer—" Fakir's eyebrow twitched; only Autor would want to be related to that lunatic "—Princess Tutu came to me in a dream recently."
Fakir's body went cold.
"Oh, I assure you it's true," Autor added glibly. "About three months ago. I remember because it was right before I met Ahiru that day in the library."
Thought processing had all but stopped. Everything felt like it was moving too slowly.
"She was very comforting and gentle—effortlessly elegant. The mark of a perfect woman.
"I can only assume Drosselmeyer sent her to me as a sign," he preened. "Perhaps I've been reading her character all wrong. At her most base, she represents the hopelessness of love, as I've mentioned earlier, but she also represents how fleeting life can be.
Fakir couldn't bear to listen to Autor's drivel any longer. He felt physically sick. Standing abruptly, he muttered some lame excuse about needing to leave and left, not even bothering to put his books or newspapers away. Pushing past the door, he wandered aimlessly around town.
Autor had a dream about Princess Tutu the day Fakir brought her to the library for the first time since she became human again. Both Autor and Ahiru had passed out that day, in the library.
Did Ahiru know she was Princess Tutu again? Maybe she becomes unconscious when it happens now? If she were to become Princess Tutu again, could that change? What purpose could Princess Tutu possibly serve now? Surely, Drosselmeyer would have to be involved if Princess Tutu was back, right? Maybe Autor, through all his fanaticism, could sense that Ahiru was once Princess Tutu and really did simply dream of her.
Fakir didn't know what to think or what to make of any of this new information. The sun was beginning to set by the time he found his senses again. He stood, staring down at a river, on a bridge by the edge of town. The water gleamed in the orange-ish, pinkish-hues cast by the sunset. Everything he thought he knew seemed just as hazy as his reflection staring back at him. So, he focused on the one thing he knew for sure: Ahiru was human again.
Ahiru, with her bright, cornflower blue eyes, was human again. Her salmon-colored hair was long, defiant, and always in the way. Her nose and cheeks were dusted with caramel freckles. Her smile warm, bubbly, and welcoming. Her laugh was loud, quackish, and contagious. She was awkward and always managed to trip over herself. She was brimming with compassion and love. Ahiru, in all of her graceless charm, was human again.
Fakir had missed her so much over the past two years she was back to being a duck. He would do anything for her. Despite their less than amicable beginnings, she was the only one who truly believed in him. Frankly, he didn't care in what capacity he stood by her side, as long as she let him be there for her. Not knowing what was going on, if she was in danger, or how he could possibly help her was killing him. Fakir hated sitting on the sidelines, idly watching as his loved ones fought battles by themselves. He would not let her fight alone ever again.
He couldn't let paranoia impede on his relationships. Fakir had to constantly remind himself of this. Desire to protect Mythos from his story soured their relationship and led Fakir into dark places. There was no way he would let himself become as abusive and controlling as he was to Mythos to Ahiru. However, the path he walked on was a slippery slope for him. He was avoiding Ahiru, ignoring her, pretending he didn't see the hurt in her eyes as he pushed past.
He had to be better. He had to be stronger. He had to trust Ahiru.
Unlike Mythos, she has her heart. Ahiru's free will was fully intact, and she never let him forget it. Fakir needed to try his best to believe she knew what she was doing, and would come to him when it was time. He wasn't sure how long he could hold out, but he had to try. The wondering was going to drive him insane. He needed to focus on what he knew. He knew Ahiru.
With a few almost imperceptible nods, Fakir resolved to not think about it anymore—at least for now. Sudden awareness flooded his mind now that it was no longer preoccupied. White with strain, his knuckles ached from the vice-like grip he had on the bricks of the parapet.
"Damn it." He cursed under his breath as he struggled to get enough feeling back in his fingers to release them. Once free, he absentmindedly rubbed at his pained joints and headed home.
Charon sighed as he stirred the stew bubbling away on the stove. For the eighth day in a row, Ahiru was moping at the table while he cooked. True, it was not uncommon for his younger ward to keep him company when he cooked, but her lack of ebullience was uncommon. Or at least it was uncommon.
Fakir was a difficult kid and now he was a difficult man. He always struggled with making friends and opening up to others, but his relationship with Ahiru was different. She brought something out of Fakir that no one else did. Anyone could see Fakir was crazy for the girl, and Charon was no blind man. He was softer with her, more patient with her, even his teasing of her was teeming with affection.
So why in the hell was Fakir leaving her alone all the damn time?
Charon wasn't getting any younger, he wanted to see his son happy and it was like the only person stopping Fakir was Fakir.
Que another woeful murmur from Ahiru.
Charon tapped his ladle on the side of the pot to shake off any loose liquid and set it on a worn spoon rest. Wiping his hands on his apron, he turned to face the young woman.
"What's got you down, Ahiru?" Not like he couldn't figure it out on his own, but he thought maybe talking about it would help her.
Her emotive eyes flicked up at him. "Wha—I…" She puckered her lips and rolled a frayed tablecloth hem between her fingers. "Nothing, really…"
"Oh, come on, now. You think I'm going to buy that?" Charon pulled out the chair across from her and sat down.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't worry you. I'm just bored, honest." She suddenly straightened, her eyes wide, and began broadly gesticulating. "Not that living here is boring, nonono! Not at all! I just mean I've finished my chores and I guess I could find new ones, yeah I shoul—"
Chuckling, Charon put up a hand to stop her. "It's okay to be bored, and you do plenty around the house. But I doubt that's what's got you so down lately."
Ahiru pouted and focused her attention back to the tablecloth.
Charon reached across the table and patted her hand reassuringly. "We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but just know I'm always here for you, okay?"
Ahiru gave him a small, appreciative smile. "Thanks." And she meant it. Before, she had Pique and Lilie, and even though she loved them dearly they never actually listened to her—not that she was overly forth coming with information, but even if she was, she doubted they'd have taken her seriously. The only person she really had to talk to was Fakir, which left her feeling awfully lonely when he was the source of her woes. She probably wouldn't go to Charon with hurt feelings caused by Fakir—he was his father, after all—but, knowing that Charon wanted to be there for her made her feel better, like she was less alone than she thought she was.
Fakir didn't show up for dinner. Charon finally said it wasn't worth waiting and poured them both a bowl of soup. In an attempt to cheer her up some, he gave Ahiru an extra big chunk of bread, knowing it was one of her favorite foods. Their meal was eaten mostly in silence, peppered with small talk primarily provided by Charon. He talked of work at the smithy, upcoming festivals, and how nice it was to see all the birds flocking to his house in the mornings. Ahiru responded pleasantly, but felt guilty at how his attempts to converse mostly fell flat.
Once Charon finished eating, he prepared a bowl for his son and set about cleaning the dishes and storing any leftovers. Ahiru finished not long after, thanked him for the meal, and dismissed herself to her room.
Upon hearing the distant sound of her bedroom door closing, Charon shook his head. "At this rate, Ahiru's going to get married off to that pianist fellow who keeps coming 'round here, and Fakir is going to die a lonely, bitter old man." The blacksmith set the last clean dish out to dry and pulled the plug to drain his sink with a little more force than was necessary. "And it'll be his own damn fault."
Maybe he should have tried harder to find a wife and set an example for Fakir, but Charon never found someone who made him happy in such a way. Of course he was aware of Raetzel's feelings for him, but she was a child and he never saw her as anything but. She was like a niece to him, and he appreciated the companionship and the example she provided for his son. Besides, Charon had his son to fill his heart—he had no need for romantic love. Far be it for him, an old bachelor himself, to force his son into a relationship, but he could tell how much Fakir cared for the girl. Fakir looked at Ahiru like he could do anything as long as she was by his side. It would be a shame for Fakir to lose what many never find.
Charon rubbed the back of his neck as he sat down in front of the bowl of stew he set out for Fakir. He would wait for him to come back.
Fakir wasn't surprised to see Charon waiting for him when he got back home.
"So the prodigal son returns."
Fakir ignored his father's words. "You didn't have to wait up."
"I didn't wait long." Charon shrugged and slid the now cool bowl of stew towards his son. It had been just under an hour since he finished cleaning up.
"Sorry." Fakir took his seat across from his father. Picking up his spoon, he slowly began to eat.
Charon dragged his hand down his face with a groan. "Why do you keep doing this?"
The younger man didn't respond.
"She's been miserable for weeks now."
"I know," Fakir admitted.
Charon leaned back, exasperation written plainly across his face. "Mein Gott! It's like you're trying to get her to go running into that Otmar guy's arms!"
"It's Autor," Fakir corrected.
His father sent him a look, clearly unimpressed and uncaring what her other suitor's name was.
Fakir set his spoon in his bowl and looked away. "I told you before, she doesn't see them hanging out as a date. She just wants to make friends. Besides, you're assuming I'm trying to court her. I'm not."
A grayed eyebrow arched. "So you're not jealous. At all."
Fakir scoffed. "Of Autor? Hardly. He'll get tired of her eventually and give up."
"What if he doesn't? Ignoring her is only going to make her go to him more. I just don't get you boy, you're so hot and cold with the poor girl, it's a wonder she still wants to be around you."
"I know. I'm just… trying to figure things out." Fakir took another bite of his cold stew, ruminating as he chewed on a chunk of meat. "I'll make it up to her. I'm sorry it's affected you."
Charon crossed his arms on the table. "I just want to see you happy, Fakir. I see how happy she makes you."
"You're reading too much into it." Fakir picked up his bowl and drank the remaining broth. He didn't want Charon thinking he was admitting to having feelings for Ahiru. "I owe her a lot, that doesn't mean I'm romantically interested."
The older man stood up. "Right." He stretched and began walking out of the kitchen. "Well, I'm going to bed for the night. Make sure you do your dishes before you turn in."
Fakir listened as his father walked up the stairs and to his bedroom, exhaling once he heard his bedroom door close. It was a long day and he was exhausted. Dealing with Autor was enough, he didn't need Charon chiding him as well. Obediently, he washed his dishes before heading upstairs himself.
"Hey, Fakir!" Ahiru's chirp-like voice called out to him. He squinted, trying to adjust his eyes to the blinding light. "No, over here, silly!"
Fakir turned toward her voice, his eyes gradually adapting to his surroundings.
There she sat on a yellow plaid blanket at the bank of their lake, the bright sunlight the only contender to her beaming smile. She wore a strapless baby blue sundress which enhanced her shining cerulean eyes. Her hair was tied up in a braided bun, keeping it off of her bare shoulders.
His heart leapt.
"Well? Sit down, you weirdo!" She patted the empty space next to her, and he willingly obliged.
She scrunched up her face at him. "You're acting funny."
Fakir stared at her a moment before shrugging and looking out at the lake. "Don't be stupid, idiot."
Ahiru giggled and pulled a picnic basket out from behind her. "Glad to see you're in a good mood." She rummaged around in the basket for a moment before procuring two glasses. "I wanted to thank you. You know, for being there for me." She pulled out a bottle and began filling the glasses with a deep red liquid.
'Is that wine?' Fakir stared in confusion, barely processing what she was saying.
"I know I can be difficult. Not to mention I'm always hiding things from you. I'm so lucky you trust me anyway." She picked up one of the glasses and held it out to him.
He mindlessly accepted the glass from her, struggling to take his eyes off her face. Finally, he forced his eyes away from her glowing visage and regarded the glass in his hand.
"I really do love you, Fakir."
It wasn't wine.
"Isn't that what you want to hear, Fakir?"
It was blood.
Fakir dropped the glass in horror.
"It is, isn't it?" Ahiru's voice was devoid of her normal emotion.
His heart stopped when he looked back at her. Gone was his beautiful, kind Ahiru, and in her place was Princess Tutu.
But it wasn't quite Princess Tutu—at least, not the Princess Tutu he knew. Her eyes were empty and outlined in a sharp, black lines—reminiscent of the black mask a swan's feathers form around its eyes. Gone were the soft pink, warm yellow, and comforting blue hues that made up her outfit. Everything was an emotionless white or silver, save for the normally blue coils that bobbed from her wings and her pointe slippers; both of which were an aggressive black, which seemed to zap the color from around them.
She laughed mirthlessly. "Ahiru? Ahiru is dead." Princess Tutu cocked her head, and the movement struck Fakir as unnatural. "You killed her, remember?"
Fakir shook his head as he backed away from the prima ballerina, using his arms and legs to propel him backwards. "No!"
Her movements were jerky, discomfortingly so. "Yes. You killed her. You told her you'd protect her and you killed her."
He found himself petrified, unable to move, unable to run from her accusations.
Eerie laughter thundered in the distance.
"Drosselmeyer!" Fakir exclaimed, waking with a start. His thoughts were reeling from his recent night terror; his body was drenched in a cold sweat and quivered with emotion.
Moments passed before his breaths slowed and his mind calmed. He clutched at his forehead, willing himself to focus on how irritatingly his hair stuck to his slick neck, or how uncomfortably his nightclothes had twisted around his body. Anything but how peculiarly that not-Tutu moved, or how empty her eyes looked, or how accusatory her words were. Anything but how devastated he felt when he realized Ahiru was gone, and it was his fault.
With a shuddering gasp, he tried to smooth his bangs back from his wet face. It had seemed so real. He forced the thoughts from his head, ignoring the flash of black-outlined eyes in the back of his mind. It was just a nightmare. Everything was okay. He was going on a walk with Ahiru tonight. Things would go back to normal. He would forget the dream ever happened.
Another moment passed before he found the will to get out of bed. A long shower seemed to be in order. He gathered his things and headed to the bathroom. He wasn't going to acknowledge the image of that heartless Princess Tutu seared into his brain.
Ahiru's tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth, clearly deep in concentration. On her cheek was a smear of batter, and some flour dusted her hair. Ever the go-getter, she was determined to get Fakir to actually talk to her this morning, and she decided making him pancakes was her ticket.
'He did promise to go on a walk with me today!' She thought gleefully as she tried to slice an apple.
Upon her behest, Charon had kindly set out all the ingredients she needed to make pancakes with simple instructions. Dry ingredients were premeasured and all she really needed to do was add the right amount of the wet ingredients. It shouldn't be too hard, even at her cooking skill. She decided to bake apple slices into the pancakes, which, maybe, she shouldn't have. She was unable to get a consistently thin slice no matter how she tried, and somehow her batter ended up too thick. The pancakes either fell apart when she flipped them or burned on the bottom.
By the time Fakir woke up, there was a downright mess on a plate waiting for him. Smeared with even more batter than before, Ahiru grinned up at him.
"Morning Fakir!" She set a cup of the leftover buttermilk next to the plate.
Fakir eyed the disjointed confections wearily. "What's… this?"
"I made you pancakes!" Handing him a napkin, she urged him to sit. "I promise they taste better than they look. I know I made them a little thick, and the apple is a bit wonky, but they taste fine! Really! Have some!"
The young man took a seat and picked up his knife and fork, glancing only briefly at the girl now situated across from him, staring with expectant eyes. He exhaled before taking a small bite. It wasn't horrible: a bit chewy, some bits were burnt, and the apple was sliced too thickly, but it wasn't horrible. Certainly, it wasn't as inedible as her cooking has been in the past.
Fakir smiled at her. "Not bad."
A broad smile tore across her face. "Really?! Oh, I'm so glad. I really wanted you to like them!" She watched him eat for a few moments before continuing. "Sooo… we're still going to go on a walk tonight, right?"
He nodded. "I told you we would, after I get back from the smithy." He took a swig of the milk, trying not to make a face. Buttermilk was not his favorite.
"Do you wanna go to the lake? It's been a while since we've gone!"
Fakir blanched, an image of Ahiru sitting on a yellow plaid picnic blanket flashing in his mind's eye. "No! Uh… no, why don't we walk around… the uhm, local district? We usually walk around town."
"Okay!" If she noticed his balking, she didn't acknowledge it.
"And," he hesitated, "I'm… sorry. I've had a lot on my mind the past few weeks. I didn't mean to make you feel…" Unsure of what word to use, he faded off.
The girl shook her head, "It's okay." She puffed up her cheeks and made a face at him "As long as you don't do it again, you jerk." Relief flooded her body.
Smiling thankfully, he worked on finishing the rest of his… meal. "Dually noted."
"When do you have to go help Charon, anyway?"
Fakir took one last bite and looked at the clock. "Right about now, actually. I'll see you when I get back."
"Yup! I'll be here, waiting!" She waved him off. Well, it was a start.
Ahiru happily set about doing her morning chores, which took a bit longer than usual since she also had to clean up the inevitably huge mess she made in the kitchen trying to make pancakes. At least Fakir seemed to like them.
Around noon, she was just about finished when she heard a knock at the door. She hesitated before answering it; this was the first time anyone came to the house when she was home alone. Putting on a brave face, she cracked the door open, revealing a familiar face.
"Autor!" Ahiru opened the door the rest of the way and greeted him.
The pianist inclined his head slightly. "I'm glad you're at home. I have something for you."
Autor cocked his head expectantly before gesturing past her. "May I come in?"
Uncertain, Ahiru glanced over her shoulder. "Well… I uh…" Charon never said she wasn't allowed to have guests, but he hasn't said she was allowed, either. Was it really such a great idea to have someone over when neither he nor Fakir were there? She glanced back at his face. It probably wouldn't hurt, at least they knew him. She stepped aside. "Okay, sure."
Autor followed Ahiru back to the kitchen where she motioned towards the table. "Pick a seat, I guess. I can uhm… get you a… drink…?" She had never entertained before and was desperately trying to recall what Fakir and Charon did whenever they had visitors.
"Coffee, please." The purple haired man sat down.
"Coming right up!" Ahiru exclaimed, dashing to the stove. Charon had recently taught her to make coffee—another ploy to get Fakir to talk to her which she attempted yesterday morning. At least he requested something she knew how to make!
While her back was to him, he cleaned his glasses. "I take it black, by the way."
Nodding, she put a pot of water on to boil. "So does Fakir!" She skipped back to the table and took the seat across from him.
"Here." Autor held out a white envelope.
The girl blinked before taking it from him. "What's this?"
"You know, you could open it instead of asking."
She shot him a look before flipping open the back flap.
Before she could even take the contents out, Autor began, "Kinkan Academy's ballet department is having their annual performance, and they've asked me to provide the piano accompaniment—since I am the academy's most accomplished piano alumnus." He paused before adding, "That's still living, anyway."
"Oh!" Ahiru finally pulled the invitation out of the envelope and glossed over it.
"I was given some free tickets and thought you would like to go, since you expressed interest in listening to my work again."
Ahiru stared at the paper before her, drawn in by the neat calligraphy. With her eyes, she traced the words 'Kinkan Academy's Ballet Department.'
"Fakir is welcome to come as well, since I have an extra ticket. Though, I doubt he'd want to come since he hasn't expressed any interest in returning since he graduated himself." Autor pushed his glasses back with an index finger. "You probably didn't know, but Fakir is an alumnus of the ballet department. Strange, since he doesn't do anything with it."
Mindlessly, she nodded. "Yeah, I know…" She looked up at him and smiled. "Thanks! When is it?"
The pianist rolled his eyes in response, "Honestly, it's right there in your hands." He couldn't help but smile fondly back at her. Somehow, idiosyncrasies that would've driven him insane if it were someone else were endearing from her. "It's two weeks from Friday."
Ahiru stuck her tongue out at him and glanced over the invitation again. "We should be able to make it—well, I should check with Fakir first, huh?"
"The water's boiling."
"Huh?" She stared at him, confused by the sudden topic change.
He turned his head toward the pot on the oven.
"Oh! OH!" Jumping up, she rushed to the stovetop. Careful with her measurements, she poured the grounds into the pot. While stirring the water, she turned her body toward him. "This is the third time I've made coffee, so hopefully it tastes alright."
Autor chuckled. "Not much of a homemaker, are you?"
Her cheeks puffed up indignantly. "So what?"
The man shrugged, still laughing. "It doesn't surprise me. It's rather… typical of you."
She glared at him and turned back towards the stove. "Well, maybe you should be making me coffee."
"I can. We could make a date of it."
Though he couldn't see, she scrunched her face up at the mere thought of it. "I hate coffee. Too bitter."
"You can add sugar and cream, you know."
"Still." She set her ladle down on the spoon rest and killed the flame. "There that should do it."
His brown eyes followed her lithe form as she went between cabinets grabbing a saucer and a cup. "Well, it doesn't have to be a coffee date, it can be another kind of date."
"Wha—Ooh!" Hissing in pain, she dropped the coffee cup when she accidentally poured the hot liquid over her thumb. "Ouch, ouch!"
Autor was next to her in seconds. "You shouldn't have poured it so soon, it's too hot, and the grounds need to settle, anyway." He gently took her hand in his, inspecting it. "Where's the ice?"
She pulled her hand back and shook her head. "Don't worry about it, just a day in the life of a klutz." Pouting, she nursed her hand with her other hand. "You can sit down, I'll take care of it."
Autor sighed as she walked past him to get a cold compress. He bent over and picked up the miraculously unbroken cup. "You should be more careful, you know."
"Heh, yeah!" She called from across the room. "I sorta made Fakir spill his coffee yesterday morning, too. I guess me and coffee don't get along at all."
He used a nearby towel to mop up the little that had spilled.
"I'll take that." Ahiru carefully took the kitchen towel with her uninjured hand. The other hand was wrapped in a clean towel.
Autor sat back down and watched as Ahiru discarded the dirty towel in a basket and went about ladling another cup of coffee for him; hopefully the grounds had long enough to settle.
She gave him the cup and saucer and reclaimed her seat. "So. Tell me about this year's ballet."
"You what?" Fakir's voice was terse. He should be used to Ahiru injuring herself by now, but it never sat well with him—especially when he wasn't with her to do anything about it. He glared up at her, his head bent over her hand which was gingerly cupped in his.
She fidgeted under Fakir's gaze. "Burnt myself making coffee…?"
He raised an eyebrow. There was more to that sentence the first time she said it.
"… for Autor?" Ahiru added tentatively.
The knight groaned. "Why were you making him coffee?"
"Well, he wanted to come in and I didn't know what to give him and he asked f—"
"He was here?"
"Uhm, well, we never discussed if I was allowed to have guests and I didn't want to be rude but I figured maybe he was your friend, too, so it was probably okay, but maybe I shouldn't have assumed…"
Fakir sighed and let go of her hand. There was nothing more he could do to assist its healing. As often as she gets injured, it wasn't surprising she was pretty good at dressing wounds. "You can have guests over. It's just—never mind." He started heading upstairs. "What did he want?"
Ahiru jogged to catch up with him. "He wanted to invite us to the upcoming ballet at Kinkan! He's going to be playing piano in the orchestra. We're going to go, right?"
She seemed pretty excited. Fakir wondered how long that would last when she realized that her old friends would be in the ballet. He really didn't want her to have to face that alone. And he really didn't want her alone with Autor for another one of his concerts. "Alright."
"Do you want me to change my mind?"
Shaking her head vigorously, the duck-girl made a face at him. "No! I wanna go."
He chuckled and went to get ready for their walk. "Give me a few moments and we can head out."
"'Kay!" She chirped.
By the time they got outside the sky was already dark, but the stars were shining brightly. Their walk would be short, as Charon had already started cooking their late supper. Regardless, the two were in high spirits and their laughs rang in the air around them. Whatever was making Fakir avoid her was clearly not bothering him anymore, and Ahiru felt at ease. She nudged his side with her elbow, grinning up at him when he looked down at her.
Everything was going to be alright, she decided.
A/N: Eight chapters! That's one third of the way done! Woo! Man, I cannot tell you how much time I spend looking up German cuisine while writing this. Half the time I end up not even using what I research (though that isn't exclusive to my cuisine research)—or even mentioning the actual dish's name. Like originally Fakir spills his tea, not his coffee. And then I started researching German tea culture, specifically ostfriesentee, which originates in North Frisia, which is nowhere near Nördlingen, the town Kinkan/Gold Crown Town is based off of—not that a fictional town based off of a real town couldn't be in a different location, nor tea from one side of the country couldn't be found on the other side. In the end, I just went with coffee because Germans love their coffee and I spent well over an hour stressing over such a minor detail. Haha. This is why I write so slow. That and my cat, Starlord, likes to sit in my lap and demand immediate and singular attention when I write. Anyway, as always, please let me know if you see any typos, grammatical mistakes, or otherwise! I try to make sure my story is as clean polished as possible. And thank you everyone for reviewing! Your kind words light a fire in my cold soul.