Princess Tutu

Love is Not a Victory March

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This was inspired both by Autor's comment in Ikuko Itoh's "follow-up" script that he accompanied the ballet students on piano eleven times, and by X0WhiteLily0X's amazing Autor/Ahiru stories, particularly Parallels. This, then, is a series of during-series drabbles (and one post-series scene) about the eleven times Autor played the piano for the ballet students. It explores more than one kind of love; Autor's infatuation with/romantic feelings for Rue and a platonic/familial love for Ahiru. There's nothing that directly contradicts canon, so I'm kind of considering that this is part of my main timeline. I reference two stories of mine near the end (Beneath the Cover of a Book and Into the Woods), but neither needs to be read to understand this.

The first time Autor was asked to accompany the ballet students on the piano, he was excited and enthralled. It was the first time in months that Neko-Sensei had asked anyone from the music division to take on such an assignment. Autor was right to be thrilled.

He ignored the whispered jibes of "Teacher's pet" and "Of course Neko-Sensei would pick him" as he gathered his sheet music and walked to the ballet division's practice room. Though he managed to keep his steps steady and showed no obvious signs of shaking, inwardly his heart was pounding and he wanted to shout an exclamation of triumph.

Of course, the majority of his elation was not because he would finally be putting his hard work in music to use, but because of Rue. He had watched her for so long, catching glimpses of her at the various buildings on campus and several times in town. She had never noticed him, but then again, he had wanted it that way. He knew he did not really have a chance with someone magnificent such as she. But this request would bring him closer to her than he had ever been before.

His eyes scanned the room as he entered and crossed to the piano in the corner. The beginning class was doing warm-ups at the barre. The advanced class, having finished theirs, was sitting quietly and waiting.

Autor's gaze fell on Rue, who was beautiful as always. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun to keep it out of the way. Her red tutu perfectly complemented its dark color and matched her unique, garnet-colored eyes. As she glanced up, feeling his eyes upon her, his cheeks burned red and he averted his attention.

"Class, this is Mr. Autor from the music division," Neko-Sensei announced, coming to the center of the floor. "He will be accompanying us today while our regular pianist is absent."

Autor gave an awkward nod before sitting at the piano bench. His hands were definitely shaking now, as he set the sheet music on the shelf. Rue was right here, in the same room. And she would be dancing to his music!

At first he tried to focus altogether on what he was playing. After all, he had to get each note precisely correct. But the longer he played, the more his thoughts turned to Rue. Now and then he tried to sneak a discreet glance at the ballet students over his shoulder. Several times he caught a flash of red and his heart began to pound again.

Several other times he caught a flash of white. Only one of the girls wore white—that redhead in the beginners' class whom Autor had quickly learned could barely perform the most simple of ballet techniques.

He could relate to that, oddly enough. He had never been able to dance beyond the waltzes he had been taught as a child, and in general, he did very poorly at those, as well. Dancing was not something he loved or even really liked. Music was how he expressed himself.

Of course, he doubted that this girl could play music, either. Not that it mattered.

Apparently she had just made a misstep; one of the other girls was calling to her to watch out. He did not think anything of it. After all, it did not have anything to do with him.

Until a weight slammed into him from the side. He exclaimed in surprise as he was jolted from what he was doing, his right hand jerking and hitting the wrong keys.

Instantly the burden lifted. "I'm so sorry!" the clumsy redhead squealed, her cheeks burning when Autor turned to look at her.

He frowned and hmphed. "Be more careful from now on," he said. "You're making a spectacle of yourself."

The girl flamed deeper, but she glared at him as she moved away. Then her two friends were surrounding her, exclaiming some childish thing about tripping on purpose to get him to notice her.

"I didn't either!" she protested. "It was an accident!"

"Oh, of course it was," the irritating blonde cooed.

"At least that's what you wanted him to think," the delusional pink-haired girl said.

Autor resumed playing, tuning them out of his mind when the blonde started telling the redhead that Autor was well-known around campus as someone most students wanted to stay away from. But he still heard her grumbled comment that if he was always so unfriendly, she could understand why.

xxxx

The second time Autor accompanied the students, the redhead made certain to avoid him. But that was fine with him; he did not want to again be disturbed. There were reasons why he preferred to stay separate from people for the most part.

He caught Rue's eye twice, his cheeks flaming both times. Despite his best efforts, he had not been able to make himself stop caring about her. And every time he saw her, she had somehow become more incredible than before.

He really was a hypocrite, he decided as he played on. He had closed himself off years ago to keep himself from being hurt any more. And yet his feelings for Rue only increased. He was setting himself up for a fall. He knew that and still he could not stop himself.

"He's not a nice person," the flighty blonde informed the redhead. "He scolds you if you make any noise at all in the library."

"He just wants to be left alone, and no one complains about doing that," the pink-haired girl said.

But the redhead had caught sight of his red cheeks and adoring eyes and wondered if that assessment was entirely accurate. Especially in light of what she had already learned about Fakir, who had also initially seemed so unfriendly and unkind.

She was made to stay after class that day, as usual, though this time the consequence was practicing rather than cleaning. Autor certainly did not intend to stay there with her and provide accompaniment; she could practice just as well without music. He had fulfilled what he had been asked to do.

But he was the last person in the room with her that afternoon, as he gathered his belongings. She watched him with unease as she stood with one hand on the barre.

"Um . . . you're going now?" she asked at last.

"Yes," he said. "I have other obligations elsewhere." Which was only partially true, really; mainly he just wanted to leave. Without Rue here, there was nothing to hold his attention.

She hesitated again. "Thank you for playing the piano for us today," she said then. "You're good at it."

Secretly Autor was quite pleased by her comment, even though he doubted she had much knowledge of music and would probably be impressed by almost anyone's playing. But outwardly he only pushed up his glasses and said, "Neko-Sensei requested me to play, so I did. It isn't as if I volunteered my services."

"Well, yeah, I guess," she said, flushing a bit. "But you still agreed to play! I mean, you could have said No or something. . . ."

"You'd have to have a good reason to refuse a request from a teacher," Autor said, giving her an odd look. "Which I didn't."

"Yeah. . . ." Ahiru rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, looking awkward. This had not gone quite as she had thought.

Autor straightened, his books and his music under his arm. He walked across the floor, then paused at the doorway. "You know," he mused, "the students never thank me for accompanying them. Only the teachers do."

She frowned. "The students should thank you too," she said.

Autor shrugged. "I'm leaving now," he said, changing the subject. "Goodbye."

"Oh! Um, goodbye," she answered.

She was a strange girl, he thought to himself as he departed. He had not been friendly to her, and she had been angry with him, but today she had tried to talk to him once they had been alone.

Most likely she had just wanted to make conversation with someone, he decided, or she did not want to be rude. Not all the students disliked him; that art student had sometimes engaged him in polite conversation if they ended up in the same location.

That was all this was too, he determined. Polite conversation, nothing more. And he did not trust the redhead any more than he trusted anyone else.

Well, he supposed as he walked down the hall, he did trust Rue.

Or did he? He did not have the courage to confess his feelings, and wasn't that because he was certain that she would not be interested in someone like him? Could he really say he trusted her when he felt like that?

He frowned as he left the building.

xxxx

The third time Autor was asked to accompany the class, Rue was absent. He frowned, disappointed and a bit concerned. Where was she? No one seemed to know when he asked. She vanished like that sometimes, but she always came back. They seemed to find it strange that he was worried.

His eyes narrowed as he sat at the piano bench. Was this another clue that they were within Drosselmeyer's Stories, being manipulated by him at his whims? Rue was well-liked throughout the school for her grace and poise; it was hard for him to believe that someone besides himself would not be concerned at such unexplained absences—unless that was what the Story wanted.

But as he positioned the sheet music on the shelf he became aware that someone was looking his way. He turned, locking eyes with the red-haired girl. She flamed and looked away again.

A frown crossed his features. As he played, casting glances now and then at the students, he realized something.

The klutzy redhead was the only one present who did not act as though all was well. Her expression was distant and worry was in her eyes. And even though he had learned that she often did not pay attention, this seemed different. Coupled with the look she had given him, he could not help but wonder if she was also worried about Rue.

He caught her after class and attempted to ask. "Do you know Rue?" he queried, gripping her shoulder as she was about to run to the locker room.

She stiffened. "Yeah," she said slowly, guardedly. "Why?"

"I wondered if she was alright," he said.

She looked at the floor. "I wonder too," she mumbled.

His opinion of her intelligence went up that day.

xxxx

Rue had returned by the fourth time. Relief swept over Autor as he entered the practice room that day and saw her sitting with the other girls from the advanced class, as if nothing had happened.

The redhead was relieved too, or at least hopeful. She kept shooting glances at Rue, as though wanting to talk to her. If Rue noticed, however, she ignored it. Once, when their eyes met, Rue only gave the younger girl a cool look in response to her pleading eyes. The redhead visibly wilted.

For some reason, that bothered Autor as he sat at the piano. It really should not, he thought to himself. This was not a time for conversation. Still, the look Rue had passed to the redhead was not a simple "Not now" or anything remotely congenial. If Autor had read it right, she knew exactly what the other girl wanted and was informing her that she was not interested.

Maybe, Autor decided, it only bothered him because he had not thought Rue would brush off someone honestly worried about her. Or maybe, more likely, he was afraid that she would do the same to him if he ever earned the courage to reveal his feelings to her.

He did not feel any sympathy towards the clumsy girl. No, not at all.

But he wished to the Heavens that her crushed expression would remove itself from his mind.

xxxx

It was raining the fifth time. He had been wise enough to check the weather report and bring an umbrella when he had learned there was a chance of precipitation that afternoon. Many of the students, however, left complaining about the storm and their lack of preparation for it.

Rue did not complain, of course. If the rain bothered her, she gave no heed. Once class ended, she left with Mytho as usual, regal and composed.

The red-haired girl gazed despondently out the window at the downpour. Though she did not outright complain, she gave a discouraged sigh.

Autor frowned to himself as he collected his books and music and the umbrella. She had made her own mistake; it was nothing that should concern him. He had not given a second thought to letting the other students deal with the consequences of their actions. Why, then, did he feel that it was different with this girl? Why did he feel some bizarre urge to perhaps extend a hand of assistance to her?

He awkwardly cleared his throat as he walked over. "Your name is . . . Ahiru, isn't it?" he said when she turned.

She nodded. "Yeah. . . ." She tilted her head, regarding him in confusion.

"Where is it you need to go?" he asked, wondering why on earth he was bothering.

From her expression, she wondered too. "Well, this was the last class of the day, so home, I guess," she said.

Autor balanced the items under his arm as he pushed open the umbrella. "Come on then," he said. "I'll walk you to the dormitories."

Her eyes widened. "Oh no," she exclaimed. "I really couldn't . . . I mean, I shouldn't . . . I mean . . ."

Autor resisted the urge to roll his eyes, a colloquial gesture he rarely made. "It's not any trouble," he said.

Ahiru shifted. "Well . . . if you're going there too. . . ."

Autor merely headed for the door as his reply. He did not board at the academy, and would not be going to the dormitories if not for this, but there was no reason why she needed to know that. There was no reason why he should even be doing this.

Ahiru scrambled after him, ducking under his umbrella as he stepped outside and raised it. "Um . . . thank you," she said.

Autor walked in silence. "How well do you know Rue?" he asked after a moment.

She blinked in surprise. "Not too well, I guess," she said. "But I still think of her as a friend."

"You were worried about her before, weren't you," Autor said. "When she was missing."

"Of course I was!" Ahiru said, a bit of fire flashing in her blue eyes. "Friends worry about each other."

"No one else seemed concerned," Autor pointed out.

Ahiru's shoulders slumped. The flame was gone again, leaving her quiet and reserved. "They just don't understand," she mumbled.

"So I gathered," Autor said.

"I'm sure they'd be worried too, if they just did," Ahiru said. "Oh . . . do you know Rue too?" She looked at him with curious eyes.

He could feel his cheeks growing hot. "No," he said quickly. "No, I don't."

"Oh." Ahiru looked down. "I thought maybe you did, since you were looking at her before and asking about her when she was gone and stuff."

She was more observant than he had given her credit for. Or on the other hand, had everyone noticed? He looked away, his face scarlet.

"Did I say something wrong?" Ahiru sounded worried now.

"No," Autor said again.

He looked up as they passed under an archway made of vegetation. "We're here," he said, stopping at the bottom of the stairs leading to the girls' dormitory.

Ahiru started out of her thoughts. "Thank you for bringing me here," she said with a bright smile. "Maybe I'll see you around again."

Autor just nodded. "Goodbye," he said.

"Bye!" Ahiru called with a wave as she leaped up the stairs and through the doors.

Autor frowned to himself as he turned away. What a ridiculous thing he had done. Of course, he surely must have done it just to talk to her about Rue, he realized. He still wanted to know why Ahiru was the only one besides him who had been concerned that day.

He left the dormitory grounds and kept going straight, heading towards his home.

xxxx

The sixth time he went, Rue was performing a pas de deux with Mytho. Autor's heart clenched in his chest when he realized he would have to provide the music for their dance.

His eyes narrowed as he glowered at the keys. Look at what he was turning into, being so heart-broken over a situation that he had known existed from the beginning. That was another reason why he was certain Rue would not pay any attention to him—she already had Mytho. And they seemed very close, from everything he had seen.

Though lately Mytho had grown very distant from her. In fact, Autor realized when he thought about it, he had noticed it ever since the first time he had seen Rue back from her absence. Could that explain why she seemed distant herself? Not that she had ever been sociable, but the look she had given Ahiru still bothered him. She would not have looked like that in the past, he was sure.

It was painful to see them dancing together, but he glanced their way several times, attempting to determine what was going on. That, however, only opened more mysteries. Was it just a trick of the light, or were Mytho's eyes pinkish-red? Autor frowned to himself. He was certain they had been gold or amber before, if for no other reason than because he had heard fangirls cooing over Mytho's eyes. And fangirls, though they were wrong on many things, seemed to know what they were talking about when it came to what the object of their affections looked like.

Still, nothing seemed to actually be wrong. When they finished the pas de deux, they sat down calmly with the other students. Maybe it was all in his imagination.

He continued to sit at the bench, waiting for his next cue. But as he glanced over the group, he ended up catching Ahiru's eye by accident. Both quickly looked away again, Ahiru red and Autor glaring at the wall.

Why was it that he always seemed to run into her? It was so ironic, moreso since he himself had initiated some of their conversations. Why had he done that? And why had he assisted her? He was already in enough pain from having let Rue into his heart. He knew that caring about others only brought heartache, yet he had fallen into that trap again. At least this time, though, he did not harbor any illusions that he would actually be cared for in return.

He frowned. Why should he be so concerned about encountering Ahiru? He certainly did not feel for her as he did Rue. He did not know that he felt anything for her. He shouldn't, at any rate. And she felt nothing for him. She was only being kind; that was all. Or bored.

Besides, she seemed to be with Fakir an increasing amount of time lately.

He sneered to himself. Ah, Fakir. Now there was a subject so frustrating he could be darkly amusing. Fakir still did not know Autor existed, despite their meetings in the library and the bookstore. It was unlikely he had paid attention that first day Neko-Sensei had introduced Autor. But Autor would continue to watch over him and wait until Fakir either noticed him or not, in which case Autor would lose patience and do something even more direct to call Fakir's attention his way.

He came back to the present as the beginner's class stood to practice again. He resumed playing the piano, losing himself in the simple melody.

xxxx

Ahiru had detention the seventh time. He shook his head, watching her dejectedly begin her warm-ups while the other students filed out.

"Does this happen to you a lot?" he asked, crossing his arms as he sat on the bench.

She nodded. "Kind of . . . yeah," she mumbled. "Most of the time I have to clean, though."

"Then you should be grateful that this time it's different," he told her. "You'll only improve with practice."

"Unless I'm just not going to get good at all," she said. "Then nothing will help. Well . . . that's what Lilie says, anyway."

Autor frowned. He did not think much of the empty-headed blonde who seemed to always wish for Ahiru's failure. Who would have need of an enemy with a so-called friend like that? Pushing up his glasses he said, "If you listen to her, then there isn't any hope for you."

Ahiru stiffened. "Well, it's not really that I listen to her," she babbled, "but just that when she's always saying stuff like that it's hard not to hear it and I . . ." She trailed off, seeming to realize that she was not making sense.

"Anyway, it's not that I don't like practicing," she said, deciding it prudent to alter the subject. "It's just that . . . it's more fun with music." She mumbled the last words.

"I see." For a moment Autor hesitated, then turned back to face the keys. "Then practice," he said, his fingers finding the melody of one of the commonly-played pieces. Really, by now he had almost memorized most of them.

Ahiru looked at him in surprise. "You're staying?" she said. "But what about your 'other obligations'?"

"I don't have any today," Autor answered.

Ahiru tilted her head, looking confused. Then a bright smile came over her features and she resumed her warm-ups, this time with exuberance.

Autor kept his attention focused on the keys. He was only staying because he really did not have anywhere else he particularly needed to be. And the girl was lonely; if she would practice better with music, then he would humor her just this once.

Still, he could not deny that he liked her smile. He liked even more that she was smiling because of him.

When he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the smooth varnish, he saw that he was smiling as well.

xxxx

"Is it hard to play the piano?"

Autor looked up with a start as Ahiru sat down on the bench with him. It was the end of class following the eighth time he had been asked to accompany the students. A couple of them glanced back, surprised by Ahiru's actions, and those two friends of hers were now whispering and squealing in glee. But Ahiru resolutely ignored them, and Autor certainly did as well. What they thought of this was unimportant.

"It takes a lot of patience," Autor said, "and skill."

Ahiru frowned in concentration, plucking out several notes on the white keys. "I guess I've got enough to think about with ballet," she said, "but playing the piano looks fun."

Fun was not exactly a word Autor generally thought of in connection with it, but when he considered it, there was definitely a feeling of exhilaration. When he had been a child just starting to learn, he had not liked practicing every day. But he had been taught the value of hard work and he had come to enjoy it.

"Do you like it?" Ahiru asked abruptly, looking up at him.

He blinked in surprise. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't," he said.

"Do you like writing too?" she went on, in all innocence.

"Excuse me?"

She flushed. "I'm sorry, that was a dumb question," she said. "But just . . . your name and all. . . . I thought maybe you liked writing. . . ." Her voice lowered the longer she spoke, until she was staring down at her legs and hardly speaking above a mumble.

Autor regarded her in some semblance of amusement. "I could ask you if you like ducks," he commented. "But yes, actually—I like writing."

Ahiru looked up at him. "So you've written things?" she chirped.

"Nothing very good," Autor said. He frowned as images of the unfinished stories and crumpled papers came to his mind. He had spent so many long hours struggling to write Stories like Drosselmeyer—Stories that would bend reality to his own wishes and desires. But he had always failed. He had never been able to make even one word come true.

"They say you're your own worst critic!" Ahiru said. "You should show me sometime!"

Autor raised an eyebrow. "Why should I show you?" he returned.

"Because we've been talking together all these times, so we're friends!" Ahiru said.

Autor just looked at her, both amazed and stunned by her matter-of-fact declaration. "Friends," he repeated.

"Yeah!" Ahiru said.

Autor shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't make friends," he said.

She looked at him in all earnestness and confusion. "Why not?"

"I don't need them." Autor reached to the shelf, lifting down the sheet music.

"Everyone needs friends!" Ahiru protested.

"I don't know why. They only betray you in the end," Autor said, standing up with his belongings under his arm.

"They don't always!" Ahiru said, leaping to her feet as well.

Autor paused, not looking back. He could hear the sincerity in her voice. But more than that, he already knew of it. It had not taken long to recognize that Ahiru was always reaching out to someone. Somehow he felt that she would not betray him. That did not change his fear, however—or his determination that he was better off alone. Even those who had not betrayed him had left him in the end, due to forgetting him or dying. He was tired of the pain.

Still . . .

"No," he conceded Ahiru's point, as he walked towards the door, "maybe not."

xxxx

It was during the ninth time when he noticed that Ahiru was becoming distant herself. She had often ceased to pay attention during the lessons, but never to this extent. Neko-Sensei was convinced that she wanted to marry him, but of course no one else was lost in such a delusion.

"You're doing poorly," Autor remarked at the end of class.

Ahiru looked embarrassed. "You're not really familiar with ballet, are you?" she mumbled.

He was, actually—having studied it to learn more about Rue's world. But he only said, "Anyone could see it."

Ahiru let out a sigh. "I've just got a lot to think about," she said.

"Hmph. You should think more about your studies," Autor replied.

"You don't even know what it is I'm thinking about!" Ahiru shot back, taking him by surprise. "So you shouldn't go judging me!" She glared at him, her fists clenched in front of her.

Autor was silent, staring at her. Then he smirked. "You have spirit," he said. He pushed up his glasses. "And you're right, I don't know. But you don't know that I'm judging you."

Now Ahiru was the one taken aback. She stood, blinking at him stupidly for a moment. "Then what are you doing?" she asked.

"Giving you some advice," Autor said. He was not concerned because she was so distant. He was not asking her to tell him why. No, nothing like that.

Ahiru frowned. "I'm doing the best I can," she said as she turned away.

He watched her go. She did not understand. But then again, neither did he.

Why do I care what her reason is? he asked himself. Unable to find the answer, he took up his materials and left the room.

xxxx

It was a while before he was asked to accompany the students again. The tenth time was after he had at last revealed his identity to Fakir and had begun to guide him on the path to becoming a Story-Spinner. In fact, it had not been that long ago when he had recovered from being electrocuted by the oak tree.

Ahiru's expression was unreadable when he entered the room and crossed to the piano. She still had not forgiven him for the situation he had gotten Fakir in.

It did not matter, he asserted as he began to play. He did not need forgiveness. Fakir had wanted his help, and anyway, he had warned Fakir of what could happen to him if he was not careful around the oak tree. It had been Fakir's choice to go ahead with the contact.

Why, then, did it bother him that Ahiru had not looked happy to see him today? He did not care about her. He did not want anything to happen to her, of course, but she was not his friend. He did not trust friends.

And yet he could feel the tension between him and her as class went on. It was almost tangible, and he did not like it. When it was over and everyone was leaving, Ahiru tried to escape the room first.

Instead Autor caught hold of her arm. "Ahiru . . ."

She jerked away. "What do you want?"

He frowned. "I want to talk to you," he said.

She looked at him, unable to hide the surprise in her eyes. In spite of herself, she walked to the side, allowing the other students to go out ahead of her. "Why?" she asked.

"Because I . . ." Autor hesitated, racking his mind for the answer. Why was it?

"Because I just wanted to let you know," he said stiffly, "that I didn't want Fakir to be hurt. He could have chosen not to communicate with the oak tree after I warned him he could lose his life."

"Maybe you just shouldn't have told him about the oak tree at all," she retorted, but it sounded half-hearted.

"Do you really believe that?" Autor said.

She looked down. "I don't know," she said softly.

"Fakir has the gift," Autor said, "and he should be using it. That's what he wants, isn't it?"

She managed a nod. "Yeah. . . ." She lowered her head further. "And I wanted him to. But that was before I knew it was so dangerous."

"All power comes with a price," Autor said. He turned away. This really was ungodly awkward. He crossed one arm over his chest as he pushed up his glasses.

". . . I didn't want you to be hurt, either," he said. "When I pulled you back and told you not to interfere, it wasn't just so you wouldn't break Fakir's concentration. It was because I suspected that if he succeeded in making contact, you could be injured if you tried to pull him away."

Ahiru's head jerked up. She stared at Autor in stunned surprise. He was not facing her, but she could see his cheeks were red.

"Autor . . ." She walked closer and around to face him. "Really?"

"Yes," he said.

She frowned. "Fakir getting hurt would hurt me too," she said.

"I know." Autor finally looked at her again.

"But . . . you didn't want that," Ahiru said, echoing his words from earlier.

"Do you believe me?" he queried.

She bit her lip, but nodded. "Yeah," she said.

"Are you still angry at me?"

A hesitation, then another nod. "Yeah," she said once more, "but . . . I don't want to be." She gave him a weak smile. "Maybe I can change these feelings."

"Maybe," Autor said.

He was not fully satisfied, but it was a start.

It was only much later when he realized that his thoughts had barely turned to Rue at all that day.

xxxx

The eleventh time was perhaps the most surreal. Neither Ahiru or Rue were present. The room felt strangely lonely despite being filled with students. Autor played as requested, but his mind was not in the performance.

Where were those two? Why were they both missing today? It was an odd coincidence. Neko-Sensei seemed more concerned with Ahiru's absence than Rue's, especially since Ahiru had been growing more distant of late in class. Pointe lessons had begun not that long ago, and Ahiru had been denied toe-shoes because of her increasingly wandering mind. Neko-Sensei feared she had lost her eagerness to learn the art.

Actually, Autor noted, Fakir was also missing. Maybe Ahiru was with him. She had seemed more at peace with Fakir's writing the last time Autor had seen her.

Oddly enough, that time was when he had learned her secret.

She was a duck.

It had shocked him at the time. But the more he had thought about it, the more it had made a bizarre sort of sense. She was duck-like in her mannerisms; she always had been. And she was right that this was a town where strange things happened all the time. That had to be because of the town being controlled by Stories! This was further proof of it.

But . . . which was the real her? Ahiru the duck or Ahiru the girl? If he learned for certain that the town was manipulated by Stories come to life, and the spell was broken, what would happen to her?

He frowned. He wanted to know the truth, about the town and about her.

She had offered friendship to him again that night, after he had helped her out of her predicament. He had refused. They were not friends. He would not care about anyone that way anymore.

And yet he knew she was not the type who would betray anyone as he had been betrayed years ago. For a split-second he allowed himself the thought that, if he were to reach out to someone in friendship, it would be to her.

Bah. That was ridiculous. He pushed the thought away as he continued to play.

Besides, he was allergic to birds. How could he make friends with a duck?

xxxx

The twelfth time he was asked to play, it was all over.

He had at last confessed his feelings to Rue and had been rejected, just as he had known would happen.

Drosselmeyer's Story had ended. Rue had left with Mytho.

Ahiru had returned to being a duck.

But Fakir had continued to hone his Story-Spinning powers. And apparently Ahiru's proper ending was different from what they had expected. She was meant to be a girl. When Fakir had at last written the Story that had been pulling at him for weeks, Ahiru was restored to human form.

Fakir had been joyous, of course. And Autor himself had been pleased. He had doubted that she would enjoy life as a duck after having experienced humanity. He had kept her at arm's length, but had been cordial when she had gone to him after changing back.

She had not given up on him. Again and again she had tried to reach him, wanting to at least learn why he was so set against friendship. But he had never told his past to anyone. He had not wanted to start.

Being rejected by Rue, even laughed at by her, had made him want even more to retreat from trying to form relationships. Still, he had thought of Ahiru as a friend long before the night he had learned she was a duck. He had refused to admit it even to himself. He had not wanted to acknowledge that he could still have such feelings for anyone. He did not need that, he had told himself again and again. Above all else, he had been afraid.

Yet when they had ended up lost in the forest outside of town, searching for a lost kitten, he had at last accepted and told her the truth. Only she could have worn down his resistance. Only she could have succeeded in getting him to tell things about his past that he had never told anyone before.

And it had been she as Ahiru, not as Princess Tutu, who had changed his heart.

A weight slammed into him, jarring him from his thoughts and causing his hands to crash on the piano keys.

"I'm so sorry!" a familiar voice exclaimed.

Ahiru had improved enough in ballet to be granted toe-shoes at last. But that did not mean she was no longer clumsy.

He turned to look at her, his glasses sliding down his nose. "Be more careful from now on," he scolded. "You're making a spectacle of yourself."

She made a face at him, but there was no anger in it now.

They had come a long way.

And there you have it. I'm proud of this; I think it helps fill in some loose ends in my fics where Ahiru tries to befriend Autor. The seventh, eighth, and tenth times are my favorite, though I suppose the latter is also the most controversial where creative license is concerned. I still stand by that it doesn't directly contradict canon, however. It is indicated that Ahiru doesn't know Autor from her line in the episode about him seeming weird, but for my fic to go along with canon it could be thought of that she has never seen Autor in a fanboy mode and is quite disturbed. Plus, she feels distant from him after he rejected her offer of friendship. I've watched Akt 21 a couple of times while writing this, and keeping this backstory in mind, it's actually really sad.