I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It was written for a prompt at a writing community on Livejournal, but I'm not saying what it was, because that would likely give the plot away too soon. I will say that this is post-series and Ahiru is human again.
It was the new moon that night.
Fakir rode through the darkened streets of Kinkan Town, an upraised lantern in one hand. His horse snorted and swished its tail, moving at a steady pace over the cobblestone road. It was far later than he had planned on it being; by now the lights were out in almost every house.
He muttered to himself in irritation. He had gone to a spot in the nearby forest to write, but had completely lost track of time. He had only snapped back to reality when the lantern had dimmed and he had realized he needed to add more fuel. Upon remembering it was the new moon, he had determined it would be better to head back to Charon's instead. Ahiru was going to be worried sick.
In fact . . . would she have gone out looking for him?
He snapped the reins, spurring the horse to go faster.
As it turned the corner, keeping close to the town's wall, the stallion let out an alarmed cry. Fakir gasped in surprise, caught off-guard as its front legs lifted off the ground. He shouted a command, trying to be heard over the loud whinnies while keeping hold of both the reins and the lantern.
"Fakir! Can't you control that animal?!"
He started at the familiar voice. "Autor?" he said in disbelief. As the horse at last lowered its front hooves, Fakir trained the lantern on the area ahead. Autor was sitting down hard on the road, rubbing his head and looking furious.
Still stunned by the other boy's arrival, Fakir quickly climbed down from the horse, setting the lantern on the ground as he held out a hand to help Autor up. "He doesn't usually act like that," he said. "Are you hurt?"
"I don't know," Autor said in annoyance. "I might have twisted my ankle in the fall." He grasped Fakir's hand, pulling himself to his feet.
His hand was cold, Fakir noted. He must have been out walking for some time. Aloud Fakir said, "If you think that, you shouldn't walk on it."
"So says the Story-Spinner who stabbed his hand with a letter-opener and then almost immediately went back to writing." Autor pushed up his glasses with his other hand. "I'm alright, just surprised."
After looking him up and down, Fakir nodded. He had seen people with twisted ankles before—himself and Mytho included—and it would not be possible to stand up straight as Autor was doing if damage actually had been done. Still . . .
"Did you hit your head?" he frowned, watching Autor rub at it again.
The other boy frowned too. "I don't think so," he said. "I can't remember, but wouldn't I know if I had?"
"Why do you keep rubbing it then?" Fakir said. "Are you dizzy?"
Autor paused. "No," he said slowly. "I'm not." His hand dropped to his side.
Fakir watched him, his hands on his hips. "What are you doing out so late anyway?" he grunted.
"I could ask you the same question," Autor said. "Strange things have been known to happen around here during the new moon. I thought I would investigate and see if I could find any."
"Strange things happen around here all the time," Fakir said.
"Touché," said Autor. He took a step forward and stumbled.
Fakir reached to catch him. "Maybe you're hurt after all," he said.
"I'm fine," Autor said in annoyance.
"Don't pull your high and mighty act with me tonight," Fakir said. He could see Autor was having trouble keeping his balance now. "Look, I'll take you to your home. It's not far from here." He was admittedly frustrated by the extra delay, but he would not feel right about leaving Autor to get home himself, especially when it was his horse that had caused Autor's injuries.
"It's not necessary," Autor said. But he did not protest further. Instead he just looked suspiciously at the horse, which looked back and snorted. "Will this beast even be willing to carry me?"
Fakir shrugged. "If I tell him to," he said. "He's seen you before, so there shouldn't be any problem. You just startled him a few minutes ago."
"That could go both ways," Autor said.
The horse stood still, looking at Fakir for confirmation. Fakir patted its mane and neck. "It's alright," he said to the equine. "He won't hurt you. You remember him, don't you?" The horse neighed in reply. "That's right," Fakir said. "He's a friend." Was this the first time he had acknowledged it aloud? Odd, that it would be under these circumstances.
Autor still looked uneasy. "Is it safe to climb up?" he said.
"Yeah," Fakir said.
Slowly Autor pulled himself onto the horse's back. It held still, allowing him to do so. After taking up the lantern, Fakir got on again as well. As he snapped the reins, the horse resumed its trot down the lonely street.
The ride was strange, Fakir thought to himself. Or maybe what was strange was Autor. He was mostly silent; when Fakir glanced back at him he was usually gazing into the distance, his expression not quite there. Normally he would be talking a mile a minute, describing his research of the events on the new moon. Then again, maybe he was feeling frustrated with himself for not having discovered anything out of the ordinary tonight.
"Hey, Autor," Fakir said after a while.
Autor continued to stare off at nothing. "What is it?" he asked. He sounded as distant as he looked.
"Look at me!" Fakir said in exasperation.
Autor turned to face him. But though he was looking right at Fakir, something about his eyes said that he was actually looking through Fakir instead. Disturbed, Fakir averted his gaze to the road ahead.
"What's with you tonight?" he said.
"With me?" Autor repeated. "I don't know what you mean."
"You're not yourself," Fakir said. "You're acting like your mind's somewhere else. It's no wonder you weren't watching where you were going." He shook his head. "You're lucky it wasn't a carriage or a car coming your way."
Autor flinched. "Cars are rarely seen here to begin with," he said after a moment.
"That's not the point," Fakir said, frustrated. "Autor . . . I get the feeling something's wrong with you."
Autor fell silent. Annoyed, Fakir flipped the reins again. "Have it your way," he muttered.
". . . You always were short-tempered and impulsive, Fakir," Autor smirked after a while. "You needed someone around with a cool head like me."
"Needed," Fakir said, still mostly under his breath.
"Not that you would ever admit it, of course," Autor said.
"This is a weird thing to be saying all of a sudden," Fakir said. "Tell me honestly, did something happen today?"
"What would have happened?" Autor said after a short pause.
"That's what I'm trying to find out!" Fakir said through gritted teeth.
But Autor would not say more. He was gazing into the night sky, as if he had not even heard the other boy.
Fakir gave up. Instead he glared at the road in silence as they traveled the rest of the way to Autor's house. He would have a bizarre story to tell Ahiru when he returned. And of course, she would probably want to try to talk to Autor herself and see if he would tell her what was wrong. Which was unlikely to happen.
"We're here," Fakir said as they approached. He twisted around to see if Autor would react.
Autor snapped to attention. "That was quick," he said. "Thank you for the ride, Fakir."
Fakir started. Of all things, he had not expected to be thanked. "Do you need me to help you in?" he queried.
"No, I can make it." Autor waited until the horse was stopped, then eased himself down to the ground. He wobbled, then straightened, letting go of the animal's side. "The door's right here. I'll be fine."
Fakir grunted. "Alright then." He lingered, watching as Autor limped to the door. As Autor unlocked and opened it, he glanced back over his shoulder at Fakir.
The other boy stiffened. He had never seen such a weighty, melancholy expression in Autor's eyes before. In spite of himself, it was haunting.
"Take care of Ahiru, Fakir," Autor said. "And tell Rue . . . no, nevermind." He stepped into the stone vestibule, then looked back to pull the door shut. "I expect you to continue your writing." He gave Fakir a nod of acknowledgment as he closed the door.
Fakir was left where he was, just staring in disbelief. But as the light went on inside the study, he sighed and turned his horse to leave. He needed to get back to Ahiru. Autor could keep his secrets.
The lights were on at Charon's, as he had predicted. And as he opened the door at the kitchen and went inside, he was suddenly assailed by a red-haired tornado, also as predicted.
"Fakir!" Ahiru cried. "Where were you?! You know you were supposed to be back hours ago!" She hugged him, but then all at once pulled away, her eyes flashing. "We were all set to go out looking for you!"
"I lost track of time," Fakir said, glancing over to Charon at the table. He frowned at his adoptive father's expression. Charon looked grave as he stood and came to where Fakir was standing.
"We wondered if something might have happened to you," he said. "After Ahiru's friends came by, we . . ."
"Why were they here?" Fakir interrupted, looking from Charon to Ahiru. Then he noticed something else. "Ahiru, have you been crying?" he exclaimed, noticing how red her eyes and cheeks were.
Ahiru blinked back a couple of fresh tears that were already forming. "It's Autor," she said.
Fakir stiffened. "I was just with Autor," he said. "What are you talking about?" His mind was already turning. He knew something had been wrong with Autor, but for Piké and Lilie to know what it was seemed unheard-of. Autor certainly never would have confided in them.
"He . . . he's dead," Ahiru choked out.
Fakir rocked back. "What kind of joke is this?!" he exclaimed. "That's impossible! I said I was just with him!"
Ahiru shook her head. "S-some of the other students saw it happen a couple hours ago," she said. "Something happened that freaked out some guy's horses and his carriage was out of control. Autor saw this little kid in the road and tried to rescue him. He took the kid and tried to get out of the way in time, but . . ." She trailed off. ". . . He could only save one of them. They found Autor laying in the road after the carriage went past." Her shoulders quaked. "They tried to revive him, but he . . . he was gone."
Fakir stared at her, his heart pounding. "The . . . the carriage ran him down?" he said in disbelief. This was not real. It could not be real.
Ahiru managed a nod. "They said he'd hit his head and it was bleeding," she said. "And the horses or the carriage or something twisted his ankle. They figured the horses kicked him or even ran over him. He was all bruised and . . ." Again she stopped, the tears chasing down her cheeks.
"They said there'd been carriage accidents a lot worse than that," she whispered. "But even if his body could've been hurt worse, it was still bad enough to kill him."
Fakir took several steps backwards towards the door. When he had first seen Autor in the road, Autor had been rubbing at his head. And he had acted like his ankle was hurt. He had never said any such thing about no longer being part of the mortal plane, but . . . he had acted so distant and sad, then almost regretful when Fakir had left him.
And his hand had felt so cold. . . .
Abruptly Fakir turned, running towards the stable. Ahiru stared after him, her mouth dropping open. "Fakir, what are you doing?!" she burst out, running outside after him. Concerned, Charon hurried out as well.
Fakir was already bringing his horse back out of the stable. "I left Autor at his house," he said. "I'm going back there."
Ahiru did not hesitate. "I'm coming with you!" she declared, leaping on the animal before Fakir could protest.
As it was, Fakir just grunted. "Fine!" he said, climbing on as well. "We won't be long," he said to Charon as they rode into the night.
There was no time for talking on the ride back to Autor's house. Fakir was pushing the stallion at a fast gallop. It was all Ahiru could do to hang on to him so she would not fall.
Fakir only slowed the animal when they approached the house. It was all in darkness, unlike when Fakir had left only moments before. Now it looked eerily uninhabited, but . . . Autor could have just tended to his ankle and then gone to bed . . . couldn't he? He could have, yet deep down Fakir feared there was a different truth.
Fakir climbed off the horse's back and ran to the door, banging on the thick wood. "Autor!" he yelled. "Open up. You've got a lot of explaining to do!"
But there was no reply. Ahiru slipped off the horse as well and went to him.
"Fakir, he . . . he really is gone," she quavered. "Piké said she saw him when they brought him back." Tears slipped down her face. "I didn't believe it either, so I said I wanted to see him too. And . . . and they took me back to the academy. The person that takes dead people away hadn't come yet, so they had him there. H-he was laying there, so still. . . . I begged him to wake up, but he didn't. He couldn't!" Her shoulders shook. "I . . . I thought maybe you'd gone home by then, so I went back and you came, and . . ."
Fakir was ashen. "He was with me," he said. "He startled my horse and I gave him a ride back here. He was acting weird, but . . ."
The horse. . . . The stallion's behavior had been his first clue, if he had only paid attention. It had never been afraid of Autor before.
He looked back to the silent door. "Why didn't you tell me, Autor?" he rasped. Slamming his fists on the heavy wood, he swore in despair. "Why didn't you tell me?"
The prompt was Phantom Hitchhiker at Paranormal25.