We Are So Far From You
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is. I'm kind of nervous about posting this one, but bear with me? It's sort of a companion piece to my fic I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore, showing what was happening at the academy with the students who witnessed the carriage accident. But I don't think the other story needs to be read to understand this; I really tried to make it a stand-alone venture. It's mostly an exercise, partially inspired by a dream, to see what the students' reactions might have been. This is post-series and Ahiru is human again.
Neither Piké or Lilie had any idea what was going on that night. Outside, there was a lot of running, a lot of yelling, and a lot of screaming and horses whinnying. The two girls had been in Lilie's room, studying for the tests on the morrow, but the noise made it impossible to concentrate. They looked at each other, eyes wide, before simultaneously jumping up and hurrying out into the hall.
"An incident!" Lilie exclaimed as they dashed into the cool night air. "There must be an incident!"
Piké refrained from commenting, instead focusing on the voices and trying to discern words. She broke out ahead of Lilie, running past the dorms and out the gate. Then she could only stop and stare in confusion.
A carriage out of control was thundering down the road, the horses wild with fright. The driver had apparently already been ejected from the cab, as he was nowhere to be seen. Several people were chasing after the vehicle, trying to catch the reins and bring the animals to a halt.
A small boy was sprawled on the grass by the curb, clutching the green blades as he sobbed in terror. Two teachers had paused to see if he was alright, while two others and several students were running into the road near him.
"What happened?" Piké cried, looking around in desperation for someone to answer her. But they did not seem to hear; they were all much too occupied. Narrowing her eyes in determination, she hurried forward. Behind her, Lilie was catching up, staring at the scene in amazement.
"Something terrible happened!" she declared, not sounding the least bit upset. "Oh, I wonder what kind of heart-breaking tragedy it was?"
Normally Piké would have shot her a look of exasperated disgust, but at the moment she was too worried. "Excuse me!" she called, seeing the upperclassman Freya just ahead.
Freya turned, the shock and horror prominent in her hazel eyes. Whatever had happened, she knew about it.
Piké stopped still, chilled by what she saw in the other student's visage. "Do . . . do you know about this?" she asked. It was not often that Piké stammered over her words, but now she was altogether taken aback. Freya, long admired by the other students for her kindness and grace, had never looked so haunted.
Freya opened her mouth to reply, but her attention was diverted by what was happening in the road. She turned at the sound of the urgent voices.
"He's not breathing," said one of the teachers. "And I'm not getting a pulse. It's too late."
"No, wait!" a student cried. "I know CPR. Let me try to save him!"
The teacher stiffened in surprise but then backed away, allowing the student to do what he could.
Piké stared as the boy bent down, desperately pushing on the unknown person's chest. "Someone's dead?" she burst out. "Is it the driver of that carriage?"
Freya shook her head. "No," she said, her normally composed voice slightly trembling. "That little boy was in the road when the carriage approached. Some of us were standing here, too in shock to know what to do. I was going to go to him, but a male student was closer and he ran out. He got there just in time to push the boy to safety, but . . ." She swallowed hard. "He couldn't save himself."
Hermia, who was also standing nearby, clutched the hem of her jacket. "The horses ran over him," she said shakily. "I saw one of them kick him and he went down."
Lilie clapped her hands to her cheeks. "He gave his life to save the boy?" she exclaimed. "That's so . . ."
Piké froze in horror, knowing what Lilie was about to say. She clapped a hand over her insensitive friend's mouth, glaring at her as she struggled and made muffled yells.
"Who was it?" she asked Freya.
"I'm afraid I don't know him," Freya said. "There are so many students here. But . . . I think he may have been in the music division."
Lilie pulled free. "Doesn't Ahiru have a friend in the music division?" she said.
Piké frowned. "She does," she said.
"It's that bookish recluse no one wants to bother with," Lilie said. She frowned as well. "Would he really be the type to perform such an act of ultimate sacrifice?"
"Ahiru thinks a lot of him," Piké reminded Lilie.
"Oh, but Ahiru loves everyone!" Lilie said. "She's so cute that way."
Piké looked back to the scene in the road. The student was still frantic, trying to restart the other boy's heart, but he was apparently not having any luck. The teacher, not wanting him to put himself through it any longer, laid a hand on his shoulder.
"He's gone, son," he said quietly. "Let him be."
The student shrugged off the hand. "No!" he retorted. "I can get him back. I can. I . . ." But he trailed off, the truth he had not been able to accept washing over him. He rocked back, blankly staring as he shook.
Freya looked from there back to the curb. The two teachers were still trying to calm the child, without success. She glanced over at Piké and Lilie, who were also watching. "I'm sorry, excuse me," she said, hastening to the grass.
"Let me try," she said, her voice quiet as she stepped over to the teachers.
"He's completely traumatized," said one. "We don't know who to call to come get him."
"Does he understand what happened?" Freya asked.
"He knows that he was almost run over and that someone else really was," said the other.
Freya's heart twisted. She knelt down, laying a hand on the boy's small shoulder. He froze, then violently quaked and refused to look up.
"What's your name?" Freya asked, her voice gentle.
He did not answer. He shook harder, the tears coming faster down his cheeks.
Freya lifted the child into her arms and held him close. He did not protest. Instead he clutched at her, still sobbing. He could not even speak.
Tears pricked Freya's own eyes as she tried to whisper that everything would be alright. It sounded hollow to her ears. The child might never recover from what he had witnessed tonight. And the male student would never have the chance to even try to do so. Those who had tried and failed to save him would always carry that failure with them.
"This is terrible," Piké hissed to Lilie as they moved closer, helplessly watching the teachers lift the battered body up from the road. "Don't try to say this is wonderfully tragic. It's not wonderful at all!"
"But isn't it wonderful that he would place his own life in danger to save someone else?" Lilie returned. "And oh, wouldn't that make a beautiful romance novel? The man dies in the end to save his beloved." She clasped her hands.
"It's been done before," Piké said.
But even Lilie quieted as the teachers somberly carried the lifeless form towards the bridge leading to the academy. "We'll call the morgue and have them take him from here," one of the teachers said, his voice quiet and sorrowful.
The other nodded. "He doesn't have any family to claim his body."
Piké's heart caught in her throat as they walked past. She was close enough to be able to see the battered, bruised, and bleeding student. And her stomach sank around her knees.
"It's him," she said. His hair was a loose mess, slipping down and hiding his left eye completely. But she recognized its unique color and his pained features. Even without his ever-present glasses, which had been lost in the onslaught, she knew who he was.
"Ahiru's friend?" Lilie gasped.
Piké nodded sadly. "We need to tell her," she said. "But let me do the talking."
Lilie stared at her. "What? Why?" she exclaimed.
Piké gave her a look. "Because I'm more sympathetic," she said.
Lilie clapped her hands to her cheeks. "No way!"
Piké averted her gaze. Lilie really was hopeless.
In all of Kinkan Academy's prestigious history, no one could recall a time when a student had died. Certainly some had been injured, but they had always recovered. A dark cloud hung over the school for the days immediately following the accident. Even many of those who had not known or liked the music student mourned him now.
His absence was most keenly felt in the music division and in the library. The division head had praised his work with the piano and had made suggestions for improvement. He had been a good, attentive and reliable student, often practicing in one of the music rooms before and after classes. To not hear the piano being played, or to hear it and realize it was not he playing, was a surreal and saddening experience.
Those frequenting the library soon noticed that there was no one demanding for them to be quiet. Some were melancholy, but others found it a relief; it had been annoying and embarrassing to have a fellow student exclaim for lowered voices.
"He was scary," one girl whispered to her companions. "I was always afraid to come in here when I saw him at the table."
"He wasn't scary," one of her friends said with a laugh and a wave of her hand. "He just had no patience for noise. I found it funny, actually. Sometimes I'd come in and deliberately knock some books down or talk loudly, just to get him to yell."
The third girl frowned, crossing her arms. "He was stuck-up," she said. "No one ever really liked him, that I know of. Until the wonderful Fakir and Ahiru made friends with him, he was always alone."
"I was surprised Ahiru came to school the day after it happened," said the first girl.
"She looked terrible," said the second. "I wonder if those rumors are true and she was actually in love with him?"
"I thought she was in love with Fakir," remarked the first.
"Maybe she loved them both," the third suggested.
Malen, looking over a book on art at a nearby table, could not help but overhear. She frowned, looking down at the page but not processing what it said. The way the girls talked so flippantly bothered her, but she did not feel like getting involved and saying something. After all, she had never really known the boy in question and had only rarely seen him around. Those girls probably knew more than she did.
Yet it still deeply unsettled her, that they would talk like that right after the student had died. She closed the book and stood. She would go somewhere else to read, where she could not hear the gossip.
But she paused in surprise when another voice came on the scene.
"Excuse me, I couldn't help but overhear your conversation," Freya said in a clear, calm tone. "I just wanted to point out that he did give his life for that boy. Even if he didn't like noise and even if he was 'stuck-up', he must have had a brave and kind side, too." As Malen turned back, she could see that Freya was smiling, showing she did not mean ill. "And for all we know, he wasn't stuck-up at all. There could have been a lot of reasons for his behavior."
The other girls looked as surprised as Malen felt. "I guess," said the third. "But did you ever meet him?"
"No, I never spoke to him at all," Freya said.
"Then why bother defending him?" said the second. "He's dead. It's not like he cares, or that he would have even cared when he was alive."
"I just think he deserves a little more credit," Freya said. "Whether or not he cares isn't the point."
In the end the trio was not convinced, but at least they refrained from continuing their discussion at the present time. Malen gave a sigh of relief and sat back down, but when she opened her book she still could not concentrate.
Should she have spoken in his defense instead of, or in addition to, Freya? Everything Freya had said was how Malen felt as well, but had felt too hesitant to say. She did not want to rock the boat, as it were, and she did not want to turn the antagonistic students' attention to her. She was content to remain in the background, drawing whatever caught her fancy.
Maybe, she thought, she should have sought the music student out and tried to befriend him, as Ahiru and Fakir had. But she was generally shy and quiet, and she had certainly heard many tales about that boy being impossible to make friends with. Perhaps they had not all been true, but they had intimidated her enough that she had stayed away. She had only made polite conversation with him a couple of times when they had ended up in the same location and she had not wanted to seem rude by saying nothing. He had been polite as well, but at the same time he had seemed disinterested, so she had determined not to bother him any further after that.
Still, she thought to herself, it was sad. Most of the student body mourned their loss, despite few ever really having known him. He was noticed and thought of more after his death than he had been in life.
But was that really because of him personally, or just because the students felt a certain loyalty to one of their own when it came to something like this?
The memorial service was a sea of Kinkan Academy students and faculty. There were few others present; he had no living family unless Fakir was a distant cousin as some had claimed. Aside from the mother of the boy he had saved, along with a servant of the household and the executor of the estate, the only non-Kinkan Academy attendees were the priest and Fakir's adopted father Charon. And Femio's valet Montand, of course—as he went everywhere Femio went. Femio had been among those who had never liked the deceased, but had felt sobered by the circumstances surrounding his death and had sincerely wanted to pay his respects.
The priest opened with a prayer and the congregation was led in a hymn. Despite her dislike of public speaking and her stumbling and stuttering over words, Ahiru had wanted to give the eulogy. No one begrudged her the chance; out of everyone there, she and Fakir had known him best, save for the servant.
"Autor was a good friend," she said when she stood at the podium. She drew a shuddering breath, clutching the paper on which she had vainly scribbled what to say. It was something that for her could not be expressed well in writing. That was Fakir's forté. And so she had determined to just speak from her heart.
"I mean, of course he said and did some annoying things; everyone does. I know I do." This was almost mumbled. Louder she exclaimed, "But he was hurt a lot and didn't trust people. It took a really long time before he ever let me be his friend! But he tried to help others anyway. I thought he was a really big jerk at first, but then he got me out of a jam and I realized he was different than I thought."
She cast her gaze over the filled pews, quickly growing rattled with the number of eyes looking back at her. Swallowing hard, she sought out Fakir in the crowd. He looked to her, his expression betraying nothing as he gave a silent nod of encouragement. She perked up, her fears diminishing. She could do this.
"He always did what he could to help people in trouble," she continued. "He saved Fakir's life before. So I guess . . . if he had to die, he'd want it to be like this."
As her gaze fell upon the casket a lump leaped into her throat. She looked away, blinking back the tears coming to her eyes. This still felt so surreal, so wrong, to know that a dear friend was lying motionless and dead under the lid. She still wanted to believe that it was not true, that it was all a horrible mistake, even though she knew the truth.
There had not been a wake, mainly because of Autor's injuries. He had not been mutilated, and most of his battle wounds were hidden under his clothes, but the gash on his forehead was painful-looking and deep. In addition, Fakir had been increasingly tense since Autor's death, and he had been adamant that he did not want to give the few downright cruel students any chance to further mock Autor. Ahiru suspected that he, like herself, also just did not think he could stand to see Autor lying dead.
She gripped the papers tighter. She was not sure what else to say; Autor would be very upset if she revealed any of his secrets. Even if she longed to help them understand him better, she did not want to go against his wishes.
"I really miss him," she choked out. "Both Fakir and me always will. I . . . I just hope he's happy . . . wherever he is now. . . ."
That was as much as she could think of. Her shoulders slumping, she shuffled away from the podium and down the stairs to the pew where Fakir and Charon were sitting.
"I really made a mess of it," she mumbled, slouching into her seat.
"Idiot. You did fine," Fakir muttered, crossing his arms.
She looked up at him in surprise. "Really?" she said.
Fakir nodded. He did not intend to speak himself; he would not know what to say. Which was ironic for a writer, he knew, and Autor himself would likely, amusedly mock Fakir if he knew. But Fakir had not participated in a funeral since his parents', and anyway, back then he had been too young and too traumatized to do much more than lay flowers on the coffins.
Autor had likely been his distant family. Even though Autor had not been able to find the records to prove it, Fakir oddly realized that he had believed it to be true anyway. But more than that, Autor had been his friend, something Fakir had not even openly acknowledged until he had given the other boy that fateful ride home.
He gripped his arms. He did not want to think about that. The fact that Autor had not told Fakir he was dead still deeply bothered and angered him. Or was it more the fact that Fakir had not discerned the truth on his own? Autor had acted so strange. Fakir certainly should have been able to piece something together from his behavior, particularly the way he had referred to their relationship in the past tense. But Fakir had not understood.
He never would know the answers behind Autor's choice to be vague. It was the last time they would speak to each other in mortality; couldn't he have at least said goodbye?
He came to attention as the priest announced another hymn. The service was not likely to be long; no one knew of much to fill it. After the hymn, the priest would say a few words and give the closing prayer. Then they would go to the cemetery, and after that, it would be over.
Ahiru fumbled awkwardly with the hymnal, flipping through the pages and accidentally bending one. Fakir winced, but did not comment. Her hands were still shaking. This was something she had never experienced before, as a human or a duck. She was confused and hurting and heartbroken.
At last Fakir laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, reaching with his other hand to turn to the correct page. She gave him a weak, grateful smile before they began to sing.
The day was overcast—typical for a funeral, Fakir thought bitterly. As they stood under the green canopy in the cemetery, the chill air blew skirts and hats and hair and nipped at any exposed flesh it could find.
The priest dedicated the grave before inviting everyone to come and lay a flower on the casket. One by one the students and faculty and the few not from the academy stepped up, placing or gently tossing the provided flowers on top of the smooth wood.
Fakir and Ahiru had gone first and then stood back, observing the others. Fakir noticed several of the students who had done nothing but jeer the aloof boy both before and after his death. His eyes narrowed and he stiffened. The only reason they had come was because it would have looked bad if they had not. But he did not want them here.
At his side, Ahiru felt him go rigid. "Fakir?" she asked in concern, looking up at him.
He looked back down at her, forcing himself to try to relax. As long as they did not speak ill of Autor right here, he would fight to say nothing.
Ahiru followed his gaze, her stomach dropping to see those students. One's lip curled in a cruel and mocking way even as he left the flower.
"They shouldn't be here," Ahiru mumbled.
"I know," Fakir growled.
Most of the others were, thankfully, respectful of the occasion and the deceased. A couple of girls they did not know blinked back tears when their turns came.
"I still can't believe something like this happened," said the first.
"I know," agreed the second. "It's unreal."
They left their flowers and walked on, making room for the rest.
The majority of the students were silent. Lysander brought an arm around Hermia's shoulders as they set down their flowers. Both were blushing as they turned away, but somberness was in their eyes.
Piké gave Ahiru a sympathetic and sorrowful look when she and Lilie went up. Lilie's expression was unreadable; perhaps even she realized this was not a place for her usual exclamations. But Piké appeared to be watching her closely as they stepped aside.
Ahiru's gaze traveled over Freya, Malen, Femio and Montand, and all the others who approached the casket. Mytho and Rue weren't able to come, she thought sadly. They're so busy lately. But they sent flowers. I know it would mean a lot to Autor that they care.
The last person, a boy she did not know, laid his flower down and moved back. The priest solemnly surveyed the scene, determining that everyone had come forward before speaking once more.
"Farewell, our dear friend, until we meet again."
Everyone looked to the coffin in a final goodbye gesture before they began to slowly file out from under the canopy.
Ahiru drew a shuddering breath. "I guess . . . we should go too," she said, looking up at Fakir.
Fakir nodded. There was no reason for them to stay. Even if they lingered to have a quiet moment with the deceased, it would avail them nothing. Autor was gone. Fakir's questions would remain unanswered; he would not be able to find peace.
Both of them started and looked up. Freya was approaching them, sorrow and regret in her hazel eyes.
"I wanted to let you know how sorry I am about what happened," she said, glancing from Fakir to Ahiru. "I was there on the night he was killed, but I couldn't do anything to help him."
"No one could have," Fakir said.
Ahiru nodded. "Thank you, Miss Freya," she said softly.
Freya nodded and stepped back, allowing them to pass.
A sigh left Ahiru's lips as she and Fakir stepped into the cloudy day. She turned, casting one last, despairing look over her shoulder at the lonely coffin. "Goodbye, Autor," she whispered. Her shoulders trembled. The tears she had managed to hold back all this time were now coming to the surface.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking up at Fakir.
He raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
Ahiru wiped at her eyes. "Even with everyone around, feeling sad too and trying to be nice, it doesn't really help," she confessed. "I feel like I should be comforted or something, but I . . . I just don't. It doesn't bring him back, Fakir." Her bottom lip quivered. "He's still gone and I just miss him so much and I feel so empty!"
Fakir looked at her in a bit of surprise. "Idiot," he said. Awkwardly he brought an arm around her shoulders.
Surprised as well, Ahiru froze, then leaned into his embrace.
Fakir looked around at the departing students, unable to help disparagingly wondering how many of them actually were sad. Classes had been cancelled today, and he was certain that for some, it would be used as an opportunity to make recreation. Tomorrow they would return to school and learn and practice and study as always. And except possibly for those in the music division, Autor's absence would not be noticed. The accident had shocked the student body, but it would not be long before they would forget. Even those like Freya would go on with their lives and not allow the tragedy to be a burden for long.
Fakir and Ahiru, however, would not forget. The pain would hopefully decrease over time, but the holes torn in their hearts would never entirely mend.
Aloud Fakir said, "There's nothing wrong with feeling like that. I feel the same. I felt it when my parents died too."
Ahiru bit her lip. Fakir rarely spoke of his parents. "Does it ever get better?" she asked.
Fakir shrugged. "I guess," he said. "At least enough so it doesn't weigh you down all the time. But you never stop missing them. There's always a part of you that feels lonely because you've been left behind without them."
Ahiru looked down, staring at the natural green carpet as they left the cemetery.
The way the blades were waving in the wind, they looked like they felt lonely, too.