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L'Oiseau de Feu

Chapter 1: The Firebird

Once upon a time

Fakir did not hear the words so much as feel them. They pressed at the inside of his skull; they beat against his heart; they tickled the tips of his fingers. He knew, somehow, that this was a dream – a dream he'd had before, no less - and that upon waking he would only be able to recall those four words.

It had been spring when he had fallen asleep, he was sure of it: vague memories of a pond and a little yellow duck flicked across the surface of his mind, only to vanish like little specks of light.

The air here, in his dream, was cool and crisp, and an autumn sunset splashed across the horizon. A field of yellow flax opened before him, swaying in a wind he couldn't quite feel.

In the distance, two figures danced.

Once upon a time, there was a princess…

"I already know this story," Fakir whispered.

But suddenly he wasn't so sure. Thoughts skittered through his consciousness, and he couldn't remember whether he knew this one or not. He walked toward the dancing figures, the flax gently bending away from him as he pressed through the field.

Once upon a time, there was a princess whose cruel father kept her locked away. She and her sisters longed to be free, but they could not escape alone, for her father had conjured a terrible beast to keep his daughters at bay.

But one day, a prince arrived…

The stars were lazily flickering to life against the darkening sky. The sunset, now a red and orange smear fading to pinks and purples, looked as though it had set the field on fire. He shielded his eyes; the dancers were closer now, and they, too, seemed to glow with the dying sun's light.

He watched them dance, their movements at once complicated and gentle. One figure, the larger of the two, danced with a grace unbefitting its heavy limbs and large, bull-like frame. The second figure, somehow familiar, moved beside the beast with a strange kindness in her steps.

The prince fell in love with the princess, and he knew he had to free her. But he could not do it alone, for although he did not want for bravery or strength, he could not slay the beast guarding the princess, for the beast could not be killed.

In his shame and distress, the prince looked to the west for help, and from the setting sun came the answer to his prayers…

The last sliver of sunlight flickered against the swaying flax. Fakir watched transfixed as the beast tenderly took the other dancer's hand, bowed, and then gracefully knelt to the ground.

The other figure bowed as well, a dainty movement of the head and shoulders, and began to spin. The red sky grew faint, and she still spun, seeming to fade a little with the appearance of each new star. She spun until the crimson sky had faded to a muted pink, and in the twilight, she stopped.

Fakir only saw her face for a moment, but in that moment, he was certain.

It was Tutu.

He tried to yell; he tried to step forward; he fought with every muscle in his body to just move, but he could only stand and watch. Tutu looked at him for only a moment, a sad smile in her eyes, and then…

And then, a wisp of smoke floated up toward the clouds.

She was gone.

--

Fakir woke with a start. He stared up at the clear sping sky with unfocused eyes, his mind racing, trying desperately to cling to the remnants of his dream. It had been cool and bring and red, and there had been…a girl…

And suddenly, the dream was gone, forgotten, and only the familiar words - Once upon a time… - remained.

Fakir sat up, closed his eyes, and pinched the bridge of his nose. He'd been having strange dreams often lately, though he never seemed to be able to remember them upon waking, nor did he feel at all rested. Only those four words stuck with him.

Falling asleep just seemed so exhausting, anymore.

A cool breeze brushed against him, and he stood up, stretching a bit as he did. The day was gorgeous – about as perfect a spring afternoon as one could ask for. The sun was bright, but not harsh, and the air was crisp and smelled the bright green smell of sprouting leaves and blossoming flora. He was sitting on a small knoll next to a lake and must have dozed off when he had been trying to concentrate on fate and storytelling and writing.

But where was Ahiru? Last he remembered, she had been swimming nearby.

Fakir scanned the lake, but the little duck was nowhere in sight. Calling out to her – "Ahiru!" – drew no response. He sighed; he'd told her to stop wandering off, but there was just no stopping her, especially when he was so tired. He tried not to be too harsh with her, not since…

Well, not since she stopped being a girl.

If she ever really was a girl in the first place.

Stop that, Fakir told himself. Of course she was.­

Gathering the papers strewn across the grass nearby, Fakir stretched again and set out to find her. Knowing Ahiru, it was probably pointless to hope that she hadn't gotten herself into any trouble, so instead he just hoped that she wasn't in too much trouble.

--

Ahiru wasn't sure what to do.

She sat among some tall reeds, kicking gently against the cool water, and wished she hadn't been so stupid. Fakir had told her not to swim too far from where he was sitting, but sometimes she got carried away! Of course he'd be mad at her, and she hated upsetting him – especially now, when he seemed so restless all the time.

She sighed – as much as a duck can sigh, anyway – and kept kicking slowly, trying to stay hidden among the cattails.

She'd ventured over to this side of the lake because she'd heard someone crying. Fakir had been asleep (maybe he still is, she thought hopefully, and he'll never even know I was gone!), and she couldn't just sit and do nothing while she could hear someone crying.

They had just sounded so sad.

So she had kicked her little feet and moved across the lake, trying not to look too conspicuous. She knew Fakir wanted her to be cautious – he seemed on edge lately, though he wouldn't explain why, and so he wanted her to try to keep out of trouble – but she was sure that a little trip across the lake wouldn't take too long. She had even thought she might be able to make it over and back before Fakir had woken up.

She hadn't swam across the lake expecting to do anything; she had just wanted to see who was crying, and maybe find out why. No action, no accidents, and no problems, she told herself. Maybe once she found out what was wrong, she could get Fakir to come over and help whoever was crying.

Unfortunately, as she had moved closer and closer to the crying figure (a young man), he had spotted her. Which meant that he had stopped crying (Ahiru thought this was a good thing), but also meant that he wanted to see her closer (a very bad thing).

"Little duck," he said, his voice still a bit sad. "Won't you come out? I only want someone to talk to." Ahiru heard him walking toward her little reed grove and tried to make herself small.

It was to no avail, however, and without warning a pair of hands scooped her up out of the water. She flapped and fought, but the young man was, for lack of a better word, huge. Tall and muscular, he could grip Ahiru's whole body with one hand. Her panic seemed only to amuse him.

"There you are. Come, sit with me. I've no one to talk to, little bird. Will you talk with me?" His voice was softer than his bigness suggested. Ahiru looked up at him, and he smiled – well, it was something like a smile, anyway. It never quite reached his eyes.

So sad, thought Ahiru. He looks so horribly sad.

The young man set her down in the grass, patting her head and giving another gloomy smile. "I'm Ivan," he said. "I bet you came over here because you thought I had food, right?"

Ahiru didn't respond; she had gotten pretty good at pretending to be a normal duck, and, as Fakir often told her, normal ducks didn't respond when people asked them questions.

Ivan pulled out half a loaf of bread. "All right," he smiled – Ahiru had apparently convinced him that she was, indeed, an average duck. "I'll give you some, but you can only eat it if you promise you'll help me."

Suddenly, Ahiru heard Fakir's voice from across the pond. She and Ivan were surrounded by reeds and trees – Fakir must not have been able to see them. She started to waddle back to the water just as Ivan spread some breadcrumbs out between the two of them.

"Wait!" Ivan called, sounding distressed and disappointed. "You – you don't have to do anything, I didn't mean it like that! I just…I wanted someone to talk to. Won't you just stay and listen?"

He's so lonely, Ahiru thought. She looked back at him before getting back into the water, and saw that same sadness in his eyes. Fakir's going to be mad, but…but I need to stay!

Turing around fully, Ahiru walked back toward Ivan. He smiled as she dipped her head down to the grass and ate some of his bread.

--

Notes: Hey guys. I decided to try a Tutu fic based loosely (very loosely!) on Stravinsky's The Firebird. The French name for this ballet is obviously the title of my fic (the original Russian name is, roughly transliterated, Zar-ptitsa, but I think the French fits better with the way the shows episodes were titled). It is a wonderful ballet, and I was honestly shocked to see that it wasn't strongly featured in Princess Tutu.

I hope to add more to this soon. Please let me know what you think! Constructive criticism is welcome. If there are any spelling mistakes or typos, let me know and I will fix them. This is also my first time submitting to , so if I've done something wrong with formatting, etc., just let me know and I'll be happy to correct it.

I'm sorry if you found this chapter to be a little slow, but I wanted to set things up a bit.

Thanks for reading!