Notes: And it's done! Epilogues always give me heck, since I have to make sure to tie up all the loose ends. Most of the time, I forget something important. I hope I remembered everything this time. You wouldn't believe how much I've been editing and adding to it. Thanks to everyone who has been following this story!
The next hours were a confused blur for the most part.
Everyone returned to the palace as quickly as possible, wanting to get Charon to where the medics could help him best. Fakir and Mytho waited just outside Charon's room for a time, then in Fakir's—though eventually Mytho was called out on other business. He left with an apologetic glance at Fakir, who waved him on. Charon would understand, as did Fakir.
Charon had only been awake for a short time after they had found him and the medics on the mountain, and he had not had the strength for a conversation, but he had been aware enough to understand when Fakir had told him that he remembered everything. The utter relief and joy that had come over his features could never be surpassed. And while Fakir had been gratified to see that, it had also pierced his heart anew; he had not been able to refrain from thinking of how deeply he had hurt Charon and everyone else.
As he continued to wait, Fakir frowned at the thoughts entering and mingling through his mind. The others also knew that he remembered—he had told them on the way back. But he had not had the chance to say he was sorry for what had happened. And they certainly deserved apologies, after everything he had put them through.
He crossed to the door and slipped into the spacious hall. Ahiru's door was open, and when he stepped closer, he saw that she was not there. His eyes narrowed. He would have to find her later.
The sound of a creaking door across the way gave him a start. Autor was standing at his doorway, having been pulling the heavy door shut. But upon seeing Fakir he had stopped, just looking at the other boy with an unreadable expression.
Fakir walked over to him. "Autor . . ." The words, if he had actually had them, had caught in his throat. Autor looked terrible. And of course that was because of what he had done to try to save Fakir.
Fakir shook his head. "I don't know what to say," he muttered.
"Then if you'll excuse me, I'm exhausted," Autor said.
Fakir grunted. "I won't keep you," he said. "But I . . . I'm sorry."
"For my unsightly appearance? Don't be." But Autor sighed, more from understanding than weariness. "Though I realize that's a very trite and unfeeling bit of advice."
"It's hard to follow when I know it's my fault," Fakir grumbled, looking away.
"I made my choice based on the Story's actions. By that point, it had threatened to kill you by morning if you didn't remember in full." Autor fixed Fakir with a firm look. "It was out of your control."
"If I'd trusted in you and the others sooner, maybe I would have started to remember and things never would've got to that point," Fakir retorted.
"There's no way to know. The 'if's will come for a while, so I won't tell you not to think of them."
"Do the pain and guilt ever ease up?" Fakir wondered.
"It's a slow process," Autor said, "but yes, eventually they begin to."
Fakir sighed but then grimly smirked, crossing his arms. "It's ironic," he said.
Autor gave him a questioning look. "I'm guessing you're planning to elaborate," he said.
"I was so angry and disgusted and hurt towards you for allowing yourself to be corrupted by powerlust." Fakir spoke deliberately and matter-of-factly. He looked away, gazing at a point on the floor in the distance. His voice lowered as he spoke once more. "Now I've come to understand at least a little of what you must have felt over what you and your wayward Story did."
"I thought as much. Though our situations were not the same. You didn't set out with a selfish goal in mind. The Story simply lashed out at you when you were defenseless and unprepared."
Fakir gave him a long look. "I don't think you set out to be selfish, either," he said. "At least not entirely."
Autor could not fully conceal the surprise in his eyes. "No," he conceded, averting his gaze. "Perhaps not."
Fakir pushed himself away from the doorframe. "I'll let you go to sleep," he said. "But do you know where Ahiru is?"
"I don't," Autor said. "She could be anywhere in the palace right now."
Fakir nodded. "I'll look for her if she doesn't come back up."
"How is Charon?" Autor queried.
Fakir let out a sigh. "They're not sure yet," he said. "I'm going back to check." He stepped back, then paused. "And thanks."
Autor gave a slow nod in return. "I have to say," he said, "it's good to have you back."
Now Fakir regarded him in surprise. That was not something he had expected Autor would say, even though he knew Autor was relieved.
Autor cleared his throat, now looking uncomfortable. "I'm going to bed," he said abruptly.
"Fine," Fakir said. "You do that."
As he turned and walked back to Charon's room, he heard the door close quietly behind him.
We've come a long way, he realized to himself. Even if it's still hard to admit it aloud.
Ahiru, as it was, had been downstairs taking care of Uzura, trying to comfort the worried little girl and assure her that everything would be alright. Rue had not been able to show them around but had told her it was fine to take Uzura all over the palace, if that would get her mind off of everything. And for the past couple of hours they had done just that. Uzura had been fascinated by each room and all within them, asking many questions that Ahiru had no answer for. Ahiru herself probably had just as many.
She had intended to try to get Autor to go back to bed, but Rue had informed her that he had done so on his own. Though Ahiru was relieved to hear that, she was also worried. He would never do that unless he himself was acknowledging his injuries. And he would only do that if he thought they were serious—which meant most assuredly that they were.
At last she sighed, slumping back into a fancy couch and staring up at the ceiling. It was still hard to believe that it was over. After all of the heartache and pain, Fakir remembered. All that she had feared had not come to pass. They were alive and well, the Story forced to abandon its ideas of vengeance and return to its original design. At least, she hoped that was the case. Fakir had said there was no way to know; they would just have to wait and see.
I hope it's stopped doing horrible things, she thought to herself.
They all needed a long break after this. Autumn had been filled with one disaster after another. It had been the culmination of Autor's power-driven insanity, which had started several months earlier. Then Autor had been hurt and needed time to get better. He had wondered if he had really been important in the fight against Drosselmeyer, and Ahiru as Princess Tutu had unknowingly possessed the power to show him the truth; her pendant had sent him into a world where he had never existed. And now Fakir's Story had risen up in rebellion and tormented all of them.
Ahiru was ready for autumn to be over, even though she was not sure what to think of the cold snows of winter that Fakir had described. But she was still hoping for the chance to celebrate the Christmas holidays in peace. After being restored to human form, she had wanted to learn all about the holidays and other events in Kinkan Town. Christmas, with its decorations and bright lights and other traditions, intrigued and excited her the most.
I just want us all to be happy, she thought. Is that too much to ask?
She pushed herself upright. Maybe, hopefully, they really could be now. She would not stop believing, even though at the moment she just felt so tired and worn out.
It was some time later when to her surprise she heard the strains of a piano. Giving a last glance to Uzura, who had long ago fallen asleep on the couch, she stood and headed down the hall. The music grew louder the further she went, the moderately fast tune echoing off the old castle walls.
At last she found that the door to the music room was half-open. She pushed it further along, peering inside.
"Autor?" she called. It was definitely him sitting at the bench, where previously he had risked his life composing his piece to save Fakir. An involuntary shiver went up Ahiru's spine.
He did not turn. "Has there been any news?" he asked.
"The doctors are still trying to help Charon, I think," Ahiru said softly as she stepped into the room. "And I thought you were in bed. . . ."
"I was," Autor said.
Ahiru frowned. "Shouldn't you still be?" she said. "You were hurt so bad, and then you were outside all that time and the tornado threw you and . . ."
"I'll lie down again," he interrupted. "But not yet."
Ahiru sighed. Going over to the piano, she crossed her arms on the edge. "That's pretty," she said.
"It's Mozart's Turkish March," he answered.
She blinked when she noticed he was not looking at any sheet music. But then again, why should that surprise her? Autor prided himself on memorizing things. He probably had a whole lot of songs stored away in his mind.
She straightened. "I like hearing you play," she said. "Especially when it's not going to hurt you." She shuddered.
"I prefer it that way myself," Autor remarked.
"You risked so much for Fakir," Ahiru said quietly. "We couldn't have saved him if you hadn't. . . ."
"Don't downgrade your own role in what happened," Autor said. "You risked just as much, perhaps more."
"Oh, I don't think I really . . ." But Ahiru trailed off. By going out on the mountain, she really could have died too. Then again, they all would have if she had not brought the materials for Fakir to write with.
She took a deep breath. "I think I'll go check on Fakir," she said now. "I would've gone before, but Uzura was awake and worried and they didn't want her in the room while the doctors were working. . . ."
". . . I spoke to Fakir earlier," Autor said, feeling that she deserved to know that much.
Ahiru regarded him in surprise. "You did? When?"
"Right before I laid down. He came to the doorway and talked with me for a moment, then went on his way."
Ahiru blinked. "What did he say?" she wondered.
Autor sighed. She had not taken the hint that he did not really want to discuss the matter of the conversation's contents. He said simply, "Mostly he wanted to apologize for his behavior."
"Oh yeah." Ahiru looked down. "That's right, he didn't even really get to talk to you after you woke up before. We were all so busy with the Story and everything."
"Actually," Ahiru realized, "this is the first time I've really been able to talk to you since then. I haven't had the chance to tell you how happy I am that you're going to be okay."
"I know you are," Autor said, coloring a bit. "You don't need to say it."
"Yeah . . . but I like to anyway," Ahiru said. Sudden tears pricked her eyes at the memory of those agonizing hours. "The doctors didn't know if you'd ever wake up!"
Autor looked away. "I wasn't about to break my promise," he said.
"Well, good!" Ahiru said. "I wouldn't have ever forgiven you if you had!"
But of course that was not true and both of them knew it. They lapsed into silence as Autor continued to play the classical piece.
Ahiru shifted her weight. "Well, I guess I'll go see him now," she said. But she hesitated, continuing to stand at the piano.
Autor was very pale. Behind his glasses, his eyes looked tired. And his hands were shaking slightly as he guided his fingers over the keys. But he definitely looked stronger than he had when they had first come back to the palace.
"Please don't stay up too long," Ahiru said softly, laying her hand on his shoulder as she walked past.
He glanced at her in surprise, but gave a nod of acknowledgment. "I won't," he said.
And somehow she felt he meant it.
Ahiru found Fakir upstairs, leaning with crossed arms against Charon's closed door. She hurried the rest of the way over to him, her shoes echoing on the marble floor of the palace. Fakir looked up, not surprised to see her.
"How is he?" Ahiru demanded as she stumbled, nearly toppling over from the unplanned stop. She waved her arms frantically to regain her balance.
Fakir gave her an unimpressed look before replying. "He lost a lot of blood, but he'll get better," he said. "They're finishing up in there now."
Ahiru clasped her hands in relief. "Thank goodness," she said.
"Mytho suggested all of us stay here until Charon is well enough to travel."
Ahiru perked up. "Will we?" she chirped.
He allowed a smile at Ahiru's visible enthusiasm over the idea. "Yeah," he said. "There's no reason not to."
Ahiru gave a bright smile as she skipped the rest of the way to the door. But then she sobered, looking down as she bit her lip. "Um, Fakir?"
"What is it?" he returned. "And if this is about forgetting me, don't bother," he added.
Ahiru froze. How did he do that? "But . . ."
"I caused you, and everyone, so much pain. I deserved to know how it feels." Fakir pushed himself away from the door.
Ahiru shook her head fiercely. "No you didn't!" she cried. "You were just remembering all of us, and then the Story made us forget you!" She clenched her fists. "It wasn't fair!"
"Nothing about what it did to us was fair," Fakir said. "And yet, I wonder if it had a point."
Ahiru stopped and blinked, stunned. "Eh? What are you talking about, Fakir?" she exclaimed.
"Maybe it should be remembered," Fakir said. "I didn't deliberately write that everyone forgot; that's just what ended up happening. And when it did, I just went with it and figured that was best. Now I'm not so sure." He looked back to Ahiru.
"What happened to everyone in Drosselmeyer's Story was important. It was weird, not to mention angering and unsettling, but it controlled their lives and several generations of lives before that. And I've come to realize that not remembering really is to lose part of yourself. I don't want that for everyone in Kinkan. They should know every part of their lives, even the angering and unsettling."
Ahiru thought on his words for a moment before nodding. "Yeah," she said slowly. "I guess you're right, Fakir. So . . . what are you going to do?"
"When we get back, I'll see if they still remember. If they don't, I'll write a Story to fix that." But then he paused, a new idea coming to him. "Or you could write those friends of yours and see what they have to say," he said. "If they remember everything, they'll want to talk to you."
"That's true," Ahiru said. "And I guess I'll need to let them know we're away for a while, anyway. They'll be worried." She smiled. "Okay! I'll write them tomorrow."
Fakir nodded in approval, refraining from making a comment about Lilie probably not worrying and only being delighted thinking of the many horrible possibilities that could be happening to Ahiru. Piké he could tolerate, but Lilie ground his patience more every time he saw her.
"How's Autor?" he asked.
"He was resting for a while," Ahiru said. "But then he got up and went to the music room. He's playing something on the piano. I . . . think he told me it's called March's Turkish Mozart or something. Wait, that's not right. . . ." She placed a finger to the side of her head in confusion.
"So he's not Spinning anything," Fakir surmised, not sure whether to look at her in disbelief or amusement.
Ahiru shook her head. "I think right now he just kinda wants to unwind and relax," she said.
After all of this, who wouldn't, Fakir thought to himself.
Aloud he said, "Charon needs to rest. Let's go downstairs."
"You mean to Autor?" Ahiru asked.
Fakir shrugged. "I need to talk with him about some things . . . but they can wait," he added. "Let's just check in on him and the others. Maybe take a walk or something." He shoved his hands in his pockets, stepping away from the door.
Ahiru hurried after him as he started down the corridor. She frowned, racking her mind for something to say but coming up blank. Did Fakir have something he wanted to talk about? He seemed somewhat edgy.
"Autor's been with you through this whole thing, hasn't he."
Ahiru started. "Um, yeah," she said. "We were the first ones there with you when you woke up acting weird." She looked down at the floor. "I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't been around," she added more quietly. Autor had buoyed her up and given her strength, much as Fakir himself had done when they had fought to save Mytho. And without him, Fakir's memories most likely could not have started to unlock.
She looked up again with a bright smile. "He and you are both my best friends, Fakir," she said.
Fakir gave her a deadpan look. "I know that," he said.
And he would do his best to live up to that, he vowed. He never wanted to forget Ahiru or any of the others ever again.
He could not help glowering at the floor as they walked. So many had nearly died for his sake. As far as he was concerned, that was unforgivable—both on the Story's and on his own part. He never should have let things fall to that level. He could have lost everyone, largely because of his own stubbornness and refusal to listen.
Of course, Ahiru would put all the blame on the Story, as she had been doing. He did not think he ever could. At least not for a long time.
Ahiru moved closer, peering up at him. "Fakir!" she said in frustration. "What's wrong? I know something is!"
"It's nothing," Fakir retorted. "Just . . . I'm sorry," he amended, his voice dropping. "For everything." Hopefully in time, the weight of his guilt and anger at himself would fade. Right now it was still too fresh. With Ahiru's own guilt it was likely the same. They both needed time to heal from this.
Ahiru shook her head. "You don't want me to feel bad about forgetting you, Fakir, and I feel the same about you!" she said. Her voice lowered. "I mean, it was really hard and it hurt so much . . . but it wasn't your fault. You don't need to say anything."
Of course, that was how Ahiru would feel. That should not be a surprise.
"I wish I'd trusted you sooner," Fakir said.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish that too," Ahiru said softly.
Fakir glared at the elaborate walls. "I was stupid," he muttered. "Deep down I knew the truth, but I was afraid to accept it. I didn't want to admit that I was someone I couldn't even remember. What if I didn't like who I was? It felt so much safer to think that I was Lohengrin, the person I did think I remembered."
Ahiru stared at him, stunned. "Fakir . . ." she gasped.
"I guess it was kind of like you with Mytho's heart shard of Hope," Fakir said. "I didn't want to let go of the role the Story had assigned for me."
Ahiru's eyes widened. "So . . . I guess we still don't know whether you're really Lohengrin or not," she said slowly.
"No," Fakir said, "but I really don't care. If I was him, that life's over now."
"Yeah. . . ." Ahiru smiled. "But if he was really the way you thought, Fakir, then he was like you in some ways."
"Maybe," Fakir said noncommittally.
"It's true!" Ahiru insisted. "He was kind and wanted to help people, just like you!"
"I remember you also said he was annoying, grumpy, and crabby," Fakir intoned.
"Actually I said that about you," Ahiru mumbled, "but yeah, Lohengrin was acting like that too." She looked up at him again. "But he was more . . . well, I'm not sure what you'd call it. . . ."
"Pompous?" Fakir offered.
"Probably," Ahiru said.
"If the real Lohengrin wasn't like that, and I've never heard Mytho say he was, then he's probably rolling over in his grave at how I murdered his character," Fakir remarked.
Ahiru looked at him in shock. "He's what?"
Fakir shook his head. "It's just an expression," he said.
"A really creepy one," Ahiru shuddered. She perked up. "But if he's rolling over in his grave, then you aren't him!"
"That's one way to look at it, I guess," Fakir said, unable to help being a bit amused now.
Ahiru sighed. "Well . . . I'm just glad it's over," she said. "You remember everything, and Autor and Charon are going to be okay, and . . ." She trailed off, slowing to a stop in the hall.
Fakir stopped too. "What is it now?" he frowned.
Impulsively, she reached out and hugged him. "I've missed you so much, Fakir," she said. "I'm so glad you're back."
Fakir stiffened, the blush creeping up his cheeks. Of all things, he had not expected this.
Ahiru pulled back, flaming red as well. "I'm sorry," she said. "I . . ."
But Fakir shook his head. "Don't apologize, idiot," he said.
Again they resumed walking, both still looking somewhat flushed. After a moment Fakir smiled, albeit quietly, as he studied the amazing girl who had never given up on him. And the others who had actively tried to restore his memories and had never stopped believing and hoping—Autor, Charon, Uzura, Mytho, and even Rue—were just as amazing.
At the moment, though he did not feel deserving, he did not know how anyone could be more blessed than he.
"I'm glad I'm back too," he said at last, still staring ahead.
Ahiru looked up at him, somewhat in surprise that he had spoken. Then she smiled.
Yes, it was as she had hoped. Everything would be okay.