Within the Dreams of Candlelight.
It takes Ahiru about three months after Rue and Mytho's happy ending to realize that she's in love with Fakir.
In her defense, so she thinks, everything had happened so fast that she hadn't been able to pay much attention. There was the Prince and Rue and Fakir and Kinkan and everything that she had just ended up exhausted as the story ended.
And then. Then it was time for her to get used once more to being a duck without the capital D involved. While it was easy, at the same time it was awkward and hard. She missed being able to talk and she missed Pique and Lilie and she missed so much.
Fakir made it easier, of course, because he kept treating her exactly the same. Luckily, Charon seemed to remember Kinkan having been part of a story, so there were no issues when she started living at his house with Fakir.
She realizes a brilliantly clear day of summer. She can tell it's hot because Fakir has foregone writing: instead he rolled the legs of his trousers up his knees and he sat on the dock so that he could keep his feet in the water, quiet as he often is, but Fakir's silences have stopped being scary a long time ago.
Fakir spends enough time here at the pond – and shares more than enough seeds – that the flock of ducks no longer fears him, even if most of them don't understand why she always goes with him, the concept of 'friendship with a human' impossible to get.
And then she sees a few of the most brave ones get close to Fakir, swimming close to his feet. She's watching as Fakir huffs a little laugh, using his big toe to push the duck away just a little, and the duck gets that Fakir is playing, so she swims close to him again.
Perhaps she doesn't realize just right then, but for some reason watching Fakir playing like that with another duck makes her feel angry, angry enough that she flies out of the pond and up Fakir's lap, quacking angrily.
"Oi, oi, you're getting me wet!" Fakir complains, huffing a little, but he puts a hand on her head. "If you want to go, we can go. No need to make a fuss."
As Fakir carries picks up his things and then leans for her to hop on the crook of his arm, Ahiru wonders about her anger in a tight white ball of feathers and confusion, and she glances up at Fakir. He's still... well, Fakir. They fight a lot – or as close as they can, when she can't talk – and he's the one friend she still has. He's happier, now. He still doesn't write much, not wanting to become like Drosselmeyer, but when he does he's always careful. He has had to write a few sad endings, and he has suffered for those which is what makes him different, Ahiru thinks, and without Mytho now he's the best dancer of the Academy. She doesn't think he's very happy about that.
But as they walk through town, some of the girls approach him, wanting to talk about the upcoming festival and Ahiru feels that anger again. Fakir is polite and distant to them and yet Ahiru keeps on her tight little ball of feathers, because these girls talk about dancing with Fakir and sometimes she thinks she would give anything to be able to do that as well.
It's when one of the girls calls her 'Fakir's pet' that she almost snaps, because what could this girl know of what she and Fakir have shared and done together and...
And realization feels a lot as if a drum had started being violently banged.
She quacks, suddenly and loud enough that the girls talking with Fakir turn to look at her. Fakir is looking at her, too, a concerned frown upon his face.
"Ahiru, is everything okay?"
She can't even quack in answer, too busy trying to see if there is a way for her new, white feathers to swallow her up whole.
Her days go like this: she wakes up a little after dawn, somewhere around six o'clock. Fakir wakes up a little bit after that and he goes out with her to the garden, exercising for a bit before he goes back to help Charon with breakfast. Then, they go to school.
At school, Fakir lets her near the pond and he goes up to his classes, always coming back for lunch. Then he goes again to his classes and she waits for him to come back in the afternoon, for them to go back home.
During summer is much of the same, changing afternoon classes for lazy afternoons by the pond, or watching as Fakir does chores around the house.
It only occurs Ahiru after that fateful afternoon when she Realized what she felt that Fakir has foregone eating chicken and eggs, and that for all that they fight, Fakir always does his best for them not to go to sleep mad at each other.
And it's about then that Ahiru realizes that Fakir is in love with her.
She quacks loud enough that Fakir falls down of his bed.
Now that she knows, Ahiru feels weird and it's obvious enough because Fakir is snappish – er, that's it, snappier than usual– at her, muttering between his teeth, once or twice a day asking her what is wrong with her.
Moments like this, Ahiru misses dancing so much that she can feel her legs cramping, thinking about doing her warming up exercises.
She still dances, of course, but she has found out it's not the same. Most ducks don't care about dancing if it's not in the water, and only for food. And more often than not it's a lonely dance. Fakir watches her sometimes, but now is one of those moments when Ahiru really, really doesn't want to be with him.
Discovering this makes, of course, everything different. Fakir promised to be with her always, but she wonders. She has seen the girls fawn over the not-as-distant Fakir, and she has seen the way his new dancing partner smiles at him. More than once Ahiru has thought that she once danced better than that, not as Tutu but as her, and the knowledge that she could dance better with Fakir is both warm and heavy in her stomach.
In the Kinkan of a fairytale, a duck and a human together wouldn't have been weird, but now Kinkan is a regular town with regular people, and Fakir is a regular boy with a not-so-regular duck as a...
As a pet.
Will there come a day when Fakir thinks she is only a beloved pet? Was this a fairytale, it might be different, but it's not, and real life sometimes doesn't have happy endings. Some endings are just needed, with broken hearts and deaths and people being torn apart. Fakir hates writing those, but they exist, and because of that, Fakir will grow up, and maybe he will forget that once upon a time, he was in love with a duck pretending to be a girl. Perhaps there'll be a day when even she forgets that.
Perhaps one day, she will fly away and Fakir will mourn for her for a season or two, and then he'll move on, and then he'll fall in love and then he'll be able to dance a perfect pas de deux with someone else. And perhaps by then, she will have forgotten about Fakir and about being a human and the only language she'll remember is the duck language and she won't care about dancing anymore.
Ahiru stays in her basket after that, and Fakir is a little bit sweeter with her, even buying some of the bread that she likes and that he hates and he reads to her for hours until she falls asleep, his hand resting between her wings..
After two months have gone by and the leaves are starting to turn gold and red, the ducks tell her about migration. She's not part of their flock but she should go with them, they tell her. Kinkan will be cold, too cold for her.
Fakir writes by the dock, and the thought of leaving him makes her feel despair.
Would he want her to go, so that he could be free of his promise? Would he mourn if she wasn't there?
Late that night, after dinner, after Fakir finishes with the dishes, he starts with a: "Ahiru, you..." but he doesn't say more.
And then, later still, when they're in Fakir's room, sitting by the window, Fakir caresses her head. She would miss this, Ahiru knows, even if she was again a simple, plain duck. This closeness, the gentle caresses that mean Fakir cares.
"Once upon a time," Fakir starts, low and careful, his fingers still rubbing at her head, careful with the feathers, and Ahiru stops wondering about the things that she would miss and instead focuses on what she has. "There was a boy. He wasn't the smartest or the bravest of them all. At times he could be actually the most stupid of them all... but, anyway. This boy fell in love with a girl who wasn't, in reality, a girl. Or she was, but she was more than just that. The girl wasn't either the fairest or the smarter or even the most graceful, but she was the kindest one of them all. They both loved another person very, very much and they became friends to help him. And... okay, you know that part."
Ahiru nods a little, but she keeps on looking at Fakir. He's not looking at her, half glaring out of the window, and there's something kind of itching around her, some kind of recognition that Ahiru thinks it's important, but not as important as listening to this.
"At the end, the girl who wasn't a girl went back to being... well. What she originally was, and the boy realized that they would never be able to be together for good, but he never cared, because the girl who wasn't a girl was still his friend and the one he loved, despite and because everything and anything that might be involved with their story and she was the only happy ending he wanted or cared for, no matter what, even if the girl didn't love him back like that. And they still managed to live happily ever after for the rest of their lives." Fakir smiles and shakes his head a little. "It can't get more cliché than that."
Ahiru can't even quack because suddenly her body is changing, too fast for her to do anything, too sudden to even warn Fakir. It almost feels as if it should hurt but it doesn't, and she's almost too afraid to hope.
The chair – a rackety old thing that Fakir has promised to fix for ages and then he doesn't – breaks down under the combined weight of their bodies, and Ahiru sprawls naked and surprised on top of Fakir, who is, also, staring at her with wide, bright green eyes and neither one of them dares to breathe.
That is, of course, until she remembers that she's naked – and by Fakir's blush he remembers the same - and they both scramble into opposite directions, she by the bed, pulling the blankets around her and Fakir facing the door.
And they're still blushing as they, somehow, realize what has happened. Ahiru looks at her fingers and she wiggles her toes. She blinks a little bit to get everything into focus and she takes a deep breath and--
Fakir wished for a happy ending, didn't he?
When she turns to look at him, there's the same wonder that she feels in his eyes and in the subtle changes in his expression that speak of amazement and wonder and perhaps a little bit of fear, but mostly...
Ahiru keeps the covers tight around her, because it's the only way she's not going to suddenly stand up and run towards him, even though she has no clothes on.
"Of course I love you back," Ahiru says, smiling, her chest hurting but now it's a different kind of pain that comes from her heart beating too fast against it.
Fakir's mouth opens as if he was about to say something, but no words come out and Ahiru can't stop herself from smiling even if she feels a little like crying, too.
Getting used to this again will be hard, of course, but she doesn't mind.
She's getting her happy ending, after all.