Beneath the Cover of a Book
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! I hope no one will get upset that I ended up taking some of the core elements of a squeeable Fakir/Ahiru doujinshi and reweaving them into this. The plunnie arrived and would not go away. It takes place probably between episodes #21 and #22. I still made sure to have Fakir/Ahiru hints throughout and especially at the end. Thanks to Kaze for plot help and title!
So far it had been an average, normal day in Kinkan Town. Ahiru had been late for class, scolded by Neko-Sensei, and put on mopping duty. By the time she trudged out of the doors long after Piké and Lilie had departed, she was exhausted. Still, she did not feel like immediately going to her dorm, especially on a day as nice as this one. So instead she traveled to the park, where she sat down by the edge of a pond and idly watched the ducks and swans gliding across the water. Their movements were so graceful, so transfixing, that before she knew it she was dozing right there.
That was when the normalcy of the day abruptly snapped to a close.
The sound of a deep tuba abruptly startled her from her unexpected nap. With a loud QUACK! she started awake, tumbling forward on the grass. And before she even knew quite what was happening, she was emerging from her pile of clothes as a duck.
What happened? she exclaimed, looking around for the source of her scare. Then she caught sight of a local band on the nearby bandstand, rehearsing for a free concert that evening. Her blue eyes narrowed as she gave them the darkest glare she could manage. She would have to hurry and jump in the pond, then dress behind the bushes before anyone noticed.
But just as she was reaching to gather up her clothes, a stick poked her in the back. She quacked again, surprised and pained.
A naughty boy standing above her laughed. "Hey duckie," he said, poking her again. "Shouldn't you be in the pond with the other ducks?"
Angry now, Ahiru quacked furiously and tried to grab the stick in her beak. The smart-aleck kid jerked it away, then poked her in the chest with it.
"You gonna make your nest in these old clothes or something?" he said, noticing the pile on the ground.
Those are really good clothes! Ahiru quacked. She batted her wings at him as he reached for her casual turtleneck and yellow puffed shorts. He fell back, yelping and pretending to be the victim.
"Help!" he yelled. "It's a mad duck!"
He attracted the attention of his two comrades in mischief, who ran to his aide each with a stick in hand. While Ahiru quacked in desperation and fury, the three youths all poked and prodded her with the sharp fragments of trees' branches, driving her towards the pond all the while.
What am I going to do?! Ahiru cried. She bit one stick and managed to tug it enough out of the boy's hand that he dropped it, but then he came at her with his bare hand. She quacked in pain as it came down hard on her back, sending her to the grass. The smart-aleck leader smirked at her and grabbed the bundle of clothes in his arms while his companions continued to hit her with the sticks.
"That's a pretty fancy thing it's wearing," one of them called. "We should try to get that too! Maybe it's worth something."
No! Ahiru yelled. You can't have my pendant! She clamped her beak over the next stick as it came at her, holding on tight. But while she was occupied, the third boy took hold of the red gem and attempted to pull it off. Ahiru cried out at the pressure around her fragile neck.
"What are you doing? Stop it!"
Ahiru stiffened, as did the three pre-teens. She knew that voice.
"We weren't doin' anything, mister," said one of the boys. "It's just a duck."
"Yeah, and it was biting and pecking at us," added the leader, hiding his bundle from view.
"Leave it alone," Ahiru's savior ordered, advancing over the grass. "Ducks aren't vicious animals. It wouldn't have attacked you unless you provoked it." He stopped, crossing his arms over his chest. "Drop those sticks."
Intimidated by his authoritative voice and older age, the boys let the sticks fall to the grass.
"Now get out of here," they were told.
Obediently the trio ran, soon vanishing out of sight.
"And people wonder why I dislike children," the newcomer muttered, pushing his glasses up on his nose.
He bent down, keeping a fair distance from Ahiru while still clearly trying to see if she was badly hurt. "Are you alright?" he asked, looking like he felt ridiculous for talking to a bird.
Ahiru quacked. She was already getting to her feet. She flapped her wings briefly for balance, then stood and looked at him in a mixture of stunned surprise and gratitude. Of all people to come to her aid, she had never expected it would be him. He had presented himself as being so arrogant and such a know-it-all, not to mention as though he was not fond of associating with anyone. She would have thought he would be more likely to walk by the scene with indifference.
He half-turned away as he sniffled. "Please don't get too close," he mumbled. "I'm allergic." He stumbled up, removing his glasses as his eyes began to water.
Ahiru quacked again, waddling further from him. Once he left, she would have to decide what to do. The boys had taken her clothes, so she could not jump in the pool. If she could get back to her room at the academy, she could get her uniform and then go after them.
The sudden sneeze startled her almost out of her mind. With a loud QUACK! and a splash, she tumbled backward into the water.
Autor jumped a mile at the noise. He whirled, looking for the duck. Had it been hurt worse than he had thought?
To his utter horror and shock, instead of a duck he found himself staring at a very wet red-haired girl. A very wet, very bare red-haired girl.
Both he and the girl seemed to realize it at the same time. In the span of the next two seconds they turned several shades of pink and red. The girl dove underwater while he whirled away, his heart pounding as he tried to make some sense of this madness—and to not think about what he had just accidentally seen.
What on earth had just happened?! Where was the duck? And why did the girl look so familiar?
Well, she would not be able to stay underwater for very long. She would drown.
"I'm not looking," he said stiffly. His face was still burning.
He heard the water ripple behind him. "I can't come out," the girl gasped. "One of those mean boys took my clothes!"
Autor frowned. "Your clothes?" he repeated, incredulous. "What on earth were you doing leaving your clothes on the bank? You could have brought a bathing suit if you wanted to get in the water."
"I didn't want to!" she wailed, starting to sound angry and frustrated. "I fell in because you sneezed!"
"Because I . . . where were you before that?" he demanded. This was getting more confusing than ever. There had not been a girl around a few minutes ago.
Suddenly realizing where the conversation was going, Ahiru clamped her mouth shut. What was she going to do now? She had never intended for Autor of all people to learn her secrets. And now it looked impossible to avoid him knowing her true form.
"Wait a minute," Autor said, starting to turn without thinking.
"Don't turn around!" she shrieked, even though only her head and neck were above the water.
Autor flamed red again, looking away. "The jewel around your neck," he said. "The duck was wearing it a moment ago." His eyes widened. "You can't be . . ."
"Why not?!" Ahiru found herself exclaiming in sheer agony. "There're animals going to the academy and even teaching there! Why can't a duck turn into a girl?!"
"I suppose there's no reason why . . ." Autor trailed off. "Wait, you're Fakir's friend, aren't you?" Now that he had said it, he wondered why it was even necessary. Of course she was the red-haired girl with Fakir. He had been so alarmed a moment ago that he had not stopped to think about it until now.
Ahiru opened her mouth, about to retort that she and Fakir were not friends. But something held her tongue. After all they had been through . . . all that they were still going through and going to go through . . . they were not the same as they had been during their early meetings. Sure, they still had arguments, but they had come to greatly understand and trust each other. When she thought of it, though she was in love with Mytho, it was Fakir whom she felt the closest to.
"Yeah," she said. "I'm Fakir's friend Ahiru!"
"I thought so." Autor pushed his glasses up again, looking uncomfortable. This was quite a dilemma. In good conscience, he could not just leave the girl in her plight. But what could he do? He could chase after the boys who had taken her clothes, he supposed. And what would she do in the meantime? She could not very well wait here for him in her state.
"What are you planning to do now?" he asked.
"I can't do much of anything without my clothes," Ahiru said. And she needed to get out of the water soon; her skin was probably going raisiny.
Autor was red again. He could feel his cheeks burning.
"I could lend you my blazer," he said at last, feeling so awkward. "It would probably be long enough on you that . . ." He trailed off, too embarrassed to finish the sentence.
Ahiru blinked. "You'd do that?" she said.
Autor fumbled with the buttons. "Yes," he said. "Then we'd just have to figure out what to do next. If you went back to the academy wearing my jacket, it would cause a stir."
Ahiru grimaced. She would never hear the end of it, especially from Piké and Lilie. And the rumors that would go around! . . .
She slipped out of the water and behind a bush, reaching to catch the blazer as Autor threw it over his shoulder. Her hands trembled as she took hold of it and slipped it around her shoulders. It was warm against her shivering body. And as she buttoned it, she saw it came a third of the way down her thighs. Still too short, but certainly better than any alternative. Even though the collar dipped too low and threatened to slide off her shoulder. She tugged on the left side, pulling it back into place.
"How is it?" Autor asked, still not facing her.
"It's good. Thanks." Ahiru stepped out, rolling up the sleeves that were falling completely over her hands.
Autor turned, inspecting the sight of her. What to do now? The park was going to be filling up with people coming for the concert. And there was no way she could walk around where she would be seen. The blazer covered her, but just barely enough. He winced, seeing the collar start to dip towards her shoulder again.
". . . I know some back roads," he said at last. "We have to get you out of sight as soon as possible." He hesitated, not liking what he was about to suggest. But under the circumstances, it looked like it was quite possibly the lesser of two evils. The last thing he wanted was to be implicated in this mess, which was much more likely to happen if they tried to return to the academy.
"I'll take you back to my house," he said. "If you'll wait there, out of sight, I'll try to find the boy who took your clothes."
Ahiru looked at him in surprise. "Your house?" she said, incredulous. "But what about 'No entourage'? 'No one unrelated to Drosselmeyer is allowed inside'?"
Autor cleared his throat. "Right now, I think we have extenuating circumstances," he said. He glanced nervously over his shoulder at the platform. Interested parties were already trickling in, finding places to sit on the lawn with their blankets and loved ones. Quickly he got behind Ahiru, pushing her ahead of him. "Let's get out of here."
"Hey!" she exclaimed as she stumbled forward. Her arms flew out for balance, waving the same way her wings had flapped earlier.
Autor looked at her in both disbelief and amazement. "I see the resemblance now," he said.
Ahiru fumed. "You just caught me off-guard!" she said as she stalked forward.
Autor shrugged, staying close to her while they slipped further away from the arriving crowds. Through some miracle, they managed to stay unseen until they were out of the park and at a more deserted area behind it.
Ahiru looked around at the brown grass and rusted fences and discarded trash, suddenly uneasy. "We can really get to your house from here?" she said.
"Eventually," Autor said. It was the long way around, but their only real option.
Ahiru shivered. She had to admit that her legs were cold. And her feet would probably be a mess before they ever got there. She would have to step very carefully, she decided, glaring at a large piece of jagged glass.
Autor felt awkward as he led her through the empty field and down a less-traveled road. The sun was setting now, stretching their shadows long on the ground. At least it would be easier for them to hide under the cover of twilight, but the temperature would drop, making it even more uncomfortable for Ahiru.
On top of that, he was annoyed with himself. Why hadn't he noticed that those boys were running off with a pile of clothes? He was supposed to be more observant than he had been today. If he had just seen and stopped them from taking the clothes, none of this situation would be happening. He would have left without a second thought and Ahiru would have been free to transform back and get dressed and he never would have known that Fakir's friend was actually a duck. . . .
"Um . . . I never did thank you for saving me."
He glanced to her in a bit of surprise when she spoke. "No, you didn't," he said. Not that there had been much chance, what with the awkward problems that had immediately appeared.
Ahiru flamed a bit. "I didn't think you'd be the kind of guy who'd . . . you know, rescue a duck," she said.
"I don't like cruelty," Autor said.
"But what about . . ." Ahiru trailed off, frowning at the ground. She had been furious when she had found Fakir standing in Autor's study, staring into space without having had anything to eat or drink for three days. According to Autor, it was so he could "hone his mind" and focus on the writing process. And apparently Fakir had agreed to it. Autor had not forced him to do it.
She had to admit that Fakir was a lot more confident in his writing powers now than he had been before meeting Autor. He seemed to believe that he really could write a Story that would save Mytho. And if this was the only way they could. . . .
"Fakir's been working hard," she said instead. "You helped him a lot."
"I knew what he needed," Autor said. His tone was smooth, yet somehow he seemed tense now that they had switched to this topic.
"I've been wondering something," Ahiru said. "Why did you want to help him, anyway?"
"I ask myself the same question," Autor muttered, gazing ahead. "There isn't an easy answer."
Ahiru frowned, pondering on his words. But before she could respond, her foot went down on something hard and cold that promptly rolled away and tried to take her down with it. She yelped, her blue eyes wide and panicked as she flailed in desperation.
Then strong hands were taking hold under her arms, setting her back on firm ground. "You should watch where you're going," Autor scolded.
"I was thinking about what you said!" Ahiru retorted in frustration. "It was confusing!"
Autor offered no reply, instead merely pushing up his glasses as he continued to walk.
". . . We're almost there now," he said after a while.
Ahiru looked around in surprise. Somehow they had gotten over by the wall of the town, looming strong and ominous high above them. Up ahead, the silhouette of Autor's house was visible.
She wanted to sigh in relief, but this was not over yet. Would Autor even be able to find the kids who had taken her clothes? If he did, would he be able to get her clothes back? What if they had an even brattier and strong older brother and Autor ended up getting hurt?
Autor led her to the door and unlocked it, then pulled it open. "Get inside," he commanded.
She hurried through, not bothering to think whether he was being polite letting her go first or whether he just wanted to block any passerby's view of her and shut his door himself. She heard it close behind her at the same moment he turned on the light.
"I'll make a fire," he said, walking through the stone vestibule and into the replica of Drosselmeyer's study. From there he turned right into the living room, Ahiru following close at his heels.
"How will you find those kids?" she asked, feeling awkward as she stood by, watching him bend down by the fireplace to light the logs.
"With logic and deduction," he answered, sounding a bit proud of himself. "I'll first question the people at the houses closest to the park, describing the boys. From there I'll branch out. My guess is, someone will have seen them. Perhaps they're even well-known troublemakers in that part of town."
"I've never seen them before," Ahiru mumbled.
"They probably never had any reason to bother you before," Autor said. He straightened up, closing the safety gate. "Just wait here until I come back. Do you need anything else?"
Ahiru shook her head. "This is fine, thanks," she said. She was actually quite hungry by now, but was not about to admit it. She did not want to trouble Autor any further. Maybe he would come back soon enough that she would still be able to get something to eat at a restaurant or somewhere.
"Alright then." Autor walked past her and out of the living room, heading for the front door.
Ahiru shifted her weight, staring after him as he walked across the floor of the study. "Um . . . will you be safe?" she asked, then turned red. Maybe that would sound like an insult. But she could not help worrying that getting her clothes back could involve a fight, and well . . . Autor just did not look like he did a lot of fighting. Or that he even could.
He paused just before entering the vestibule. "I'll be perfectly safe," he said.
"But . . ."
"Don't worry about me." Autor stepped into the entryway and then was out of the house, leaving Ahiru with the roaring fire.
She sighed, hearing the door close. "I hope so," she said, her voice quiet. "I don't want anyone to get hurt because of me."
Crossing the wooden floor, she knelt down in front of the fireplace. The warmth from the blaze felt good. Her hair was still damp, and after wearing the jacket when she had been completely wet, it was cold and wet too. She shivered, staring into the dancing red, orange, and yellow flames.
There was a rug here. And she was so exhausted after the long, bewildering day that suddenly even that looked inviting. Failing to stifle a yawn, she laid on her side, curling up with the softness of the floor covering.
She really did not intend to fall asleep. She did not even think she could sleep. There was so much to think about. But her body did not want to cooperate. It forced her eyes closed as she laid there, the fire warming her from the water and the night's chill.
She only woke up some time later to the sound of footsteps on the wooden floor. For a moment she lay where she was, her mind still clouded by sleep. As the memories rushed back, however, she sprang up in alarm. Had she actually been sleeping on Autor's floor?!
A bundle was set beside her. "Here are your clothes," Autor said, sounding both pleased that he had succeeded and embarrassed at the situation.
Ahiru's eyes widened in her relief. "You got them!" she exclaimed, quickly looking through the folds to make sure everything was there. "Did you have any trouble?" She looked up at him, but he was standing too far in the shadows to guess his expression. It did not help that the glow from the flames reflected off his glasses.
"Not really," Autor said. "I was right—they're prominent juvenile delinquents. This isn't even the first batch of girl's clothes they've purloined."
Ahiru's mouth dropped open. "It isn't?!" she said in horror.
"They're perverts." Autor placed a hand on his hip. "They're getting punished tonight."
"That's good." Awkwardly Ahiru gathered her garments and got to her feet. ". . . Is there a room where I could change?"
"The bathroom is just down the hall," Autor directed, gesturing with his left hand.
"Thank you," Ahiru said, hurrying there. She flushed as her stomach complained. Hopefully Autor could not hear it.
It felt so good to be back in her own clothes again. Ahiru studied her reflection in the mirror, adjusting the pendant resting on her turtleneck. Autor had really come through for her today. He was still largely a mystery to her, but she knew that he was much different than she had first thought. After today, she would like to think of him as a friend.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped back into the hall.
Autor glanced up from a book when she reentered the living room. "Did you find everything in order?" he queried.
Ahiru nodded. "Yes, it was all here," she said with a smile. Shifting and going a bit red, she said, "I hope you won't have any trouble getting your jacket cleaned. . . ."
"It'll be fine," Autor said.
Ahiru smiled again. "Well, thank you, Autor," she said. "I'll stop troubling you now."
Autor set the book aside and stood. "Will you be alright walking back to the academy?"
She nodded. "I've gone back in the dark a lot of times," she said and then stopped. Autor did not know she was Princess Tutu. She did not want to let on why she had been walking back to her dorm in the dark.
He raised an eyebrow, but made no comment. "Then I will see you out," he said, heading towards the study.
Ahiru scurried to keep up with him. "You know, Autor, you really don't have to be alone all the time," she said. "I mean . . . there's people who'd like to be friends with you."
Autor paused in the vestibule, looking to her. "Don't get me wrong," he said. "I helped you today, but that doesn't make us friends. I have no need for friends."
Ahiru tried to push back her feelings of frustration. She should have known Autor would react like this. Princess Tutu would know what to say in reply. She was always patient and kind. But the girl Ahiru did not have the same insight as she.
. . . Didn't she? She was Princess Tutu, after all.
Fakir had acted closed-off too. And in spite of his stubborn and aloof nature, they had become very close. If there was one thing she had learned about people, it was to never give up on them. They were so much deeper and more fragile than they might ever look on the surface. And Autor had a good heart. She knew that much. There was no way to know what made him feel that he had to shut people out. But maybe, if she was patient with him and did not give up, someday she would see results.
"Okay then," she said with a sweet smile. "I'll see you later, Autor. Thank you again!"
He was left staring after her in surprise as she hurried outside. She turned, waving to him before running down the cobblestone street.
Shaking his head, he moved to shut the door. "That girl . . ." he muttered to the empty room. "Who is she?"
As Ahiru dashed down the road, which was lit only by lamps, she slammed into someone coming from the other direction.
A familiar voice grunted. "Watch where you're . . . Ahiru?!"
Ahiru jumped a mile. "Fakir?!" she exclaimed, taking a step back and looking up at him. His green eyes searched hers, surprised and stunned by their sudden meeting.
"What are you doing out so late?" he asked.
Ahiru rubbed the back of her head. "It's a long story," she said with a sheepish laugh.
"And where were you coming from?" Fakir went on. "Isn't that the way to Autor's place?"
"Yeah." Ahiru glanced over her shoulder. "I was at his house."
"What for?!" Fakir said in disbelief. From his expression, he looked like he wondered whether Ahiru had gone there to yell at the reclusive music student.
"He was helping me get my clothes back," Ahiru said. But the moment the words left her mouth, her stomach dropped. That was the wrong way to begin the explanation.
Fakir stared at her in utter shock. "What?!" He grabbed her shoulders. "Why was he helping you with that?! Idiot, how did you lose your clothes to begin with?!"
Ahiru pouted, pulling away from him. "It's not like I could help it!" she blurted, her hands clenched in front of her. "I fell asleep in the park and a big sound woke me up and I got startled and turned into a duck! And then these mean kids started poking me with sticks and tried to take my pendant, but Autor rescued me! But they ran off with my clothes and Autor's allergic to birds and I fell in the pond when he sneezed and I turned back into a girl! So then he was just helping me get my clothes back from those kids."
Fakir was still staring. ". . . You're right, it's a long story," he said.
Ahiru's stomach abruptly entered the conversation. Both of them looked to it, Ahiru in embarrassment and Fakir with a barely-changing expression.
"Have you even had dinner?" he said.
"No," Ahiru admitted. "There wasn't any time for that!"
Fakir sighed. "Come back to Charon's," he said. "I'll get you something."
Ahiru opened her mouth to protest, but the words would not come. She was hungry, and without having any money with her, there was no hope of getting food from any restaurant.
"Really?" she said instead.
"Of course, idiot," Fakir grumbled. "Come on."
Grateful, she started to walk with him. But it was not long before he stopped, suddenly realizing what had not dawned on him.
"Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "If you fell in the pond and turned back into a girl, did Autor see . . ."
Ahiru flamed red. "I don't know!" she said. "I didn't ask!" But the memory of his alarmed and mortified expression was burned into her mind.
"And what were you wearing?!" Fakir demanded. "You were wearing something in his house, weren't you?!"
"Of course I was wearing something!" she shot back. "He gave me his jacket!"
Fakir looked at her in disbelief once more. "You were wearing that?! Did it even come down far enough?"
"It was down to here," Ahiru said, indicating with her hands.
Fakir's hands went to his hips. He groaned, his shoulders slumping. "Did anyone see you?" he asked.
"I don't think so," Ahiru said. "Autor took me down a back road and we didn't meet anybody."
"Good." That was at least something to be grateful for. But of all people, for Autor to be with her. . . .
"And everything went alright?" he said now.
She nodded. "He really helped me," she said. "He's nicer than I thought he was. You know, Fakir, I wonder if he's lonely, living in that big house all alone."
"Why are you thinking that all of a sudden?" Fakir retorted.
"I just wondered," Ahiru said. "It seems like it'd be lonely."
Fakir grunted. "He made his choice," he said.
"Maybe he didn't," Ahiru said. "Do we even know what happened to his parents?"
"No." Fakir frowned. "It's not our business."
"But he's probably related to you!" Ahiru said. "So his family is your family and it is your business!"
"What is this?!" Fakir exclaimed, unable to hide his aggravation any longer. And yet, he was not even sure why he was feeling that way. What did it matter if Ahiru was concerned about Autor? It was perfectly in character for her.
"What do you mean, what is this?!" Ahiru retorted, her voice rising. "I'm telling you I think we should try to make friends with him!"
Fakir opened his mouth to retort, but then closed it again. "'We'?" he said. "'Friends'?"
"That's what I'm saying!" Ahiru said in frustration.
Fakir turned away, shoving his hands in his pockets. "That's okay then," he muttered, his anger gone as quickly as it had come.
Ahiru blinked, just confused now. "What do you mean, that's okay?!" she demanded as they started to walk again. "What did you think I was talking about?"
"I don't even know," Fakir grumbled, his face red.