How Far We've Come
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is. I wasn't actually going to post this; it was just something I started writing for myself. But then it somehow turned into an idea based on the writing prompt Dying from the Livejournal community 10 Prompts. Since Autor is usually the victim of disasters in my fics, I decided to reverse things and see how he reacts to this situation with Fakir. Nothing else of mine really needs to be read to understand this. However, it is post-series, Ahiru is human, and she and Autor have become close friends.
If you asked Autor whether his childhood had been happy, and he was willing to answer, he would likely have merely adjusted his glasses and said a simple, vague "Yes." As far as he was concerned, it had been pleasant enough. He had not witnessed a horrific tragedy, or inadvertently created one, as Fakir had done. He had been a loner much of the time, but in his young mind it was normal. Even the bullying, though dreaded and upsetting, had not left such a blight on his life that he had never been happy.
Of course, when Autor thought of his childhood, he felt that for the most part it had ended at age seven. After he had been betrayed by the only ones he had thought were his friends, he had lost a great deal of the naïveté that had been such a part of his life prior to that. He had pushed the remainder of it back, hiding it and his insecurities and his longing for friendship behind a mask of confidence and arrogance. The confident kids were never tormented as he had been, he had already noticed. Some of them had a lot of friends, while others remained loners like him. He was content to stay in the latter category, too afraid and distrusting to believe anyone else who claimed to want to make friends with him.
To Autor's relief, the physical torment had ceased after that. He had still had to deal with verbal put-downs, but he had learned to block them out behind books and music. His reputation as a bookish loner only increased tenfold after that. For the most part he was left alone through the years as he successfully pretended to be self-assured. His longing for a companion, however, had never really gone away. He had pushed it back, hoping to forget.
In spite of that, he had reached out to Fakir when they had met as children. Fakir had not liked him, but for some reason Autor had found him interesting and different and had not left. Perhaps he had sensed that Fakir actually wanted a friend too. Fakir had been too prideful to admit such a thing, of course, but by the end of their third encounter he had acted as though he at least partially wanted to see the other boy again. Or perhaps he had asked if they would meet again for just the opposite reason. In any case, somehow Autor had sensed that they would not meet any more. By the time Fakir had discovered Mytho shortly after, Autor had been busy with matters of learning how to tend to the family estate due to his father's illness and his mother's necessary absence taking care of him.
It had only been later when he had learned that Fakir was a direct descendent of Drosselmeyer. From then on he had watched Fakir through the years when he could, and by the time they had met again as teenagers, Fakir had looked at him without recognition.
It did not hurt, Autor told himself. He had always known he would be forgotten. Perhaps if Fakir had learned his name those years back he would have remembered and connected it with the arrogant boy, but Autor doubted it. Three meetings had not been enough to leave a lasting impression, no matter how unusual said meetings had been.
But it did hurt. Fakir had said he would not be able to forget someone like Autor. He had not meant it in a complimentary way, and Autor, though amused, had not taken it as such. But to even make an impression due to annoyance was better than being unremembered.
Maybe it was strange to feel like that at all, especially concerning Fakir. After all, Autor had been so jealous of him for becoming the chosen Story-Spinner when it was what Autor had wanted all of his life. But no; that sounded like a hollow argument now. Those feelings had faded long ago. Autor had matured a great deal since then.
He pushed the thoughts out of his mind as he stared down at Fakir's pained, motionless form. He was not here to think on the past. He really felt quite uncomfortable being here at all. But at the call from a grief-stricken Ahiru he had gone as quickly as he could. Fakir was dying, she had sobbed on the phone. The doctors were stymied; there was nothing they could do.
"Fakir?" he asked, quietly, shifting in discomfort. He had never thought he would see Fakir here like this. His hair was a wild, tangled mess. His skin was chalk-white, eerily pale even in contrast with the pillow. And his breathing was labored, reminding Autor too much of a failing person of a much older age. They were both so young, still in their teenage years. This was not supposed to happen. Fakir was not supposed to be dying!
The green eyes weakly opened. "Autor. . . ." Fakir sounded surprised.
"Ahiru told me you . . . don't have much time left." Autor found himself all at once surprised, relieved, and more uncomfortable than ever. He and Fakir had always had a rocky association. How was he supposed to handle this or talk to the other boy now?
"Yeah." Fakir looked up at Autor, his eyes glassy.
"Do you know why?" Autor asked.
Fakir coughed. "Something went wrong," he said. "The Story I was working on turned against me."
Autor pushed up his glasses. "I warned you about that," he said.
"I know." Fakir's expression darkened. "Autor, let's cut this out," he said. "I need to talk to you while you're here. I . . ." He placed a hand over his chest as a sharp pain drove into his heart. "I'm not going to have another chance."
In spite of himself, Autor felt his mental defenses shattering. "Don't say that!" he cried. "Maybe there's still a way to reverse it. I could . . ."
"No, Autor." Fakir's voice was urgent. With a shaking hand he reached out, clutching his distant cousin's wrist. "If you try to write something that saves me, it could take you as the price. Or it could kill us both. It's too risky."
Autor stiffened. "Then . . . what is it you want from me?" he queried. His voice sounded chilly, he thought when he heard it.
"Ahiru thinks of you like a brother," Fakir said. "I want you to promise me you'll take care of her after . . ." His grip loosened as he fell into a coughing fit.
Autor stared at him. "Fakir . . ." Now he was overwhelmed. Fakir had been his rival, his student . . . his oldest true ally. Now he was breathing his final moments. And he trusted Autor enough to give him a request like this?
Abruptly Fakir's fingers went taut again. "Promise me!" he said, the urgency back and accompanied by a harshness and desperation Autor had only rarely heard from him.
Autor bowed his head. "Of course," he said. "You don't need to have my word to know I'd watch out for her, Fakir."
Fakir released Autor's wrist. "I know." He sank further into the mattress and pillows, so tired and weak and sick. A faint smirk played across his lips.
"I didn't like you, you know," he said. "You drove me nuts—always pushing up your glasses and throwing big words around and acting like your knowledge made you so great. I don't even know myself how or why I started seeing something different in you after we started talking."
Autor blinked in stunned surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked, looking back to him.
"You let your mask drop just slightly," Fakir said. "Maybe I realized you were lonely too."
Autor sank into a chair next to the bed. "I was betrayed when I was very young," he said. "After that I was afraid. I came to believe that the way to be strong was to not let anyone in. And yet in spite of that, I let myself fall in love with Rue."
Fakir snorted. "I doubt you let it happen," he said. "I didn't let myself fall in love with Ahiru; it just happened."
Autor sniffed, adjusting his glasses. "When Rue rejected me, I determined again that I'd been right all along," he said. "To care deeply about another person only hurts you." He crossed his arms. "But then Ahiru had to come along and make me feel that I could try again." He lowered his gaze. "She made me realize something I'd denied for a long time—that I think of you as a friend." He looked up once more, meeting Fakir's surprised gaze. "We've been friends for quite a while, Fakir. You're not going to say you didn't know that, are you?" Now he smirked, though it looked hollow and forced.
"Idiot. Of course I've known. I just never thought you'd say it out loud." Fakir turned away slightly, his weary, half-open eyes gazing at the opposite wall.
Autor's shoulders slumped. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this," he retorted, "but I don't want to see you die." He sounded and felt so helpless. In any other situation he would have felt mortified to appear vulnerable like this. Maybe later, when he would look back on this, part of him still would be appalled at himself. But no one would ever know of it, he thought ironically. Fakir would take the knowledge with him to his grave. Not that he would ever tell anyway.
"I wouldn't die if I could stop it!" Fakir shot back. But then he frowned, regretting his outburst. It was the last time he would talk to Autor. He did not want Autor to carry the memory of one last argument as their final exchange.
He looked back to the other boy. Autor had lost his mask of arrogance altogether. Now he just looked like a kid frightened by what was on their doorstep. And Fakir did not know anything he could say to make him feel better.
Fakir reached out with a shaking hand, gripping Autor's shoulder. ". . . When I talked about how much I disliked you, I didn't just mean recently," he said.
Autor stiffened, staring at him. "Fakir, you . . ."
"'Ill-tempered as always,'" Fakir quoted with a self-depreciating smirk. "I can't believe how long it took me to realize that kid was you. And yet when I figured it out, I knew it couldn't have been anyone else. What seven-year-old talks like that?"
Autor shook his head, still amazed. "You remember," he said.
"I said I wouldn't forget you." Fakir looked away. "But I did. After Mytho came, I poured all my energy into keeping him safe. I didn't even think about that annoying kid for a long time. When I did, I didn't connect him with you. Then Ahiru said you'd told her we'd met as kids. And I finally put the pieces together."
"Hmph. A little late," Autor said.
"Sorry." Fakir peered at Autor. "You never forgot?"
Autor shook his head. "I remembered you, but I knew you were likely to forget," he said. "There was too much going on in your life for you to remember someone you'd only met three times."
"You had a lot going on too." Fakir leaned back, frowning. He should not feel guilty about it. Autor was well known for his good memory. He would not be able to calculate so precisely if his mind was not sharp.
Autor looked away. "I'm glad you told me anyway," he said.
"For some reason, I thought I should." Fakir clutched the comforter. It was getting harder to breathe. There would not be much time now.
"It's funny," he said. "I spent almost all my life fearing death, but now that it's on me I don't feel like I did then."
Autor looked back to him. "Maybe just because you aren't dying in the method you feared most," he said.
"Maybe," Fakir said. "Or maybe I finally conquered my fears." He hesitated. "Autor, I need to talk to Ahiru. Will you go get her?"
Autor's stomach twisted. He heard what Fakir was not saying—it was the last time he would talk to anyone. When Autor walked out the door, he would never see Fakir alive again.
"I'll get her right now," he said quietly, pushing himself out of the chair.
Fakir reached and took his wrist. "Autor . . . thanks."
Autor studied the other's green eyes. There was so much he was trying to convey in those words and in his eyes. The surface meaning was only a small part of it.
At last Autor managed a nod. Fakir let go and he walked to the door, but then hesitated. What could he say in return? His emotions were in turmoil. He had already let his mask drop. If he left without saying something conclusive, he felt certain he would regret it. When his mother had been on her deathbed, Autor had been called in to see her and talk to her one last time. But she had been unconscious, and there had been so many people around—servants, doctors, nurses—that he had not felt comfortable saying anything. He had just stood there, blankly staring at the frail woman his mother had become, before turning and leaving the room.
". . . I was right," he said at last. "To care about others hurts. There's no way to have one without the other, not if the caring is genuine. That's . . ." He gripped the doorknob. "That's the price one has to pay when they take the risk." He drew a shaking breath, hauling the door open and stepping into the hallway.
"I'm hurting now," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Fakir. "But I don't regret it. I think maybe I was wrong about something else. True strength doesn't come from locking oneself away. It's from letting others in, despite the pain."
The last he saw of Fakir was a flicker of surprise, then a gruff, bittersweet smile.
If you asked Autor if he had ever cried, and he was willing to answer, he would push up his glasses, cross his arms, and give you a haughty smirk while saying, "Only in my childhood."
But when Ahiru came to him not long after he had sent her to Fakir, the heartbreak and grief in her face and eyes, he knew what she could not bring herself to say. And as he awkwardly reached to draw her close while she fell into his arms and sobbed, he felt his own eyes grow moist.
Goodbye, Fakir, he said in silence. My old friend.
And unwillingly he was drawn back to the past by his mind, to a day long ago when he had stumbled across a boy crying angrily in the park.
"I overheard what Mrs. Daecher said to you. You shouldn't pay any heed to her; she's an old bat," he said as he approached.
"What do you want?" the other boy snapped defensively.
"Nothing in particular."
"Then why are you here?"
Autor merely smirked, adjusting his glasses. "You're ill-tempered as always," he observed. "But I'll forgive you for it."