AN: I've been waiting for the inspiration to write this fic for a long time. Thus, once I received that much-needed boost I had been waiting for, I dove right into it without hesitation. I'm still a bit rusty in terms of writing fic, but I hope that you can enjoy this!

Summary: The space from one stone to the other was set in front of him now. And for once he wouldn't allow himself to be a coward. He had to make this leap if he wanted to move forward with her. [ Fakir x Ahiru ]

Special thanks to: Kristen/astrobright68 for being my awesome and amazing beta (I've never had one before - I feel so honored!). She helped me a ton in revising and editing this and her feedback has been tremendously helpful.

Disclaimer: Princess Tutu and all of its characters do not belong to me. They belong to the wonderful Itoh Ikuko and HAL Films. I am only borrowing them for fanfiction writing purposes.


Stepping Stones

It was a day in late spring. Unremarkable, to most. The weather was cool, a bit on the breezy side, and the beauty of budding trees and flowers had waned over the past month. Yet, to the young man standing at the edge of the dock overlooking the lake, it was a day of great significance - in more ways than one.

Fakir shielded his eyes as he looked out over the glistening beginnings of the sunset just beyond the lake. The view was pleasant, he admitted with a silent appraisal. Reds, golds, and oranges shimmered across the calm water, sparkling across its surface in a way that was almost blinding and yet captivating at the same time. Artists might have found themselves compelled by such a natural beauty and be itching to take up their brush or pen to illustrate it.

However, the young writer was not there to enjoy the view, nor was he looking for inspiration to write. In fact, he had been waiting out there for over an hour, anxiousness coursing through his veins with every passing minute. And having lost his distraction now that he was through with the allure of the scenery, he felt the nerves crawl back up his spine like a snake ready to strangle his neck and squeeze.

As he expected, she was late. But for once, he didn't mind. It could almost be considered a blessing, since her tardiness gave him more time in order to collect himself before she arrived (even if he had already been out there a full hour before the agreed meeting time). He did not feel as prepared as he hoped to be, even if many years had led him to this point, step by step.

Over three long years had passed since Drosselmeyer's tale had ended. And many things had happened during that time - precious, unforgettable memories that piled one after the other like stepping stones leading and building toward something in the distance.

And today marked the third anniversary of Ahiru's return to human form. Three years ago on this day, Fakir had given up his story-spinning powers through the weaving of one last tale. With that final story, he offered what remained of his magic to the little duck who had sacrificed everything for the prince - for everyone. And with it, he gave her back her humanity and the ability to go forth and embrace the life that her soul seemed to yearn for with every clumsy, web-footed dance.

In his eyes, she unquestionably deserved it.

The ex-knight had known even then what he felt for Ahiru and how deeply he cared for her. And what resulted from the fruition of those feelings and the return of the cheerful, redheaded girl to his life was probably the most awkward and frustrating courtship imaginable. How he managed to be successful with that seemingly-impossible endeavor was still a mystery to him. As far as he was concerned, she had to be crazy to accept his affections, much less reciprocate them.

To this day, he didn't think he truly deserved a love and devotion as pure and as strong as hers, even when she had miraculously bestowed it upon him. But nonetheless, he treasured her love, just as he treasured Ahiru closer to his heart than he thought anyone could ever be permitted. She was his saving grace and the light of his life - a brightness such of hers was like a summer sun in his cold, dark winter. She melted the ice and he was content to thaw in her inviting warmth. She brought forgotten things like joy and laughter back into existence within him.

Not to say that things between them were always sweet and full of understanding. On the contrary, conflict and difficultly played a vital role. It wasn't a smooth relationship and it was far from perfect. One could even compare it to a carriage ride on rocky terrain or two off-beat and battling rhythms. The balance between them was constantly teetering and changing. Yet, none of that mattered in the end. They truly loved each other from the bottom of their hearts and never once doubted the strength of their partnership and love for each other even in the worst of times - and that was enough to guide them through any hardships that they faced.

Fakir frowned back at his reflection in the waters. What was this sappy drivel going through his mind? He was no romantic - and Ahiru could attest to that in a heartbeat. It must have been his plans for this impromptu meeting - or rather, what she thought was an impromptu meeting. He had been preparing for months.

This was the biggest step - the largest gap to be leapt between the stones that laid before him.

The weight in his pocket was heavy and undeniable - every single little movement seemed to remind him that it was there. It felt itchy and bulky and just plain uncomfortable.

Fakir grit his teeth, starting to pace back and forth on the edge of the dock. He didn't need to fret about this so much, did he? What happened to his confidence? They had been together now for over two years. And it was just a simple question. Important beyond what could be put into words, but still simple. He had even gone out of his way to put his all into making this special. Perhaps not with a bouquet of roses and cheesy poetry nonsense, but he had chosen a spot that was significant to them both in a number of ways, plus the day itself held a definite importance, as well.

He was being ridiculous. Ironically, he realized, it was as though he was channeling her skittish and restless behavior.

And no sooner had that thought crossed the dark-haired man's mind before he heard feet fast approaching, the wood underneath his feet vibrating with every flouncing step. A half-smile curved onto the corner of his lips, fading to neutral as he turned around to face the panting figure of his girlfriend, her ballet shoes clutched up to her chest and red hair mussed and blowing about her in the wind. She came to a halt just in front of him, bending down with her hands on her knees and chest heaving.

"I'm-so sorry!" she wheezed, still trying to catch her breath. It was rather apparent that she had run quite a ways. "Madam Delilah-kept us late-to run the scene through one more time and-I couldn't find my shoes-in the locker room-and-!"

The writer raised a hand to stop her punctured ramblings, sighing slowly out through his nose. "Idiot. Catch your breath first."

She giggled breathlessly, forming a sheepish smile as she righted herself. "Sorry-I... I just didn't want to leave you waiting any longer and I was really curious about why you wanted to meet out here and-!" The redhead inhaled deeply before letting the breath seep out languidly, her shoulders lowering. "I'm here now!"

So she is, he thought, swallowing discreetly. And that meant he should be following through with his intentions without further ado. Right. So he'd just... ease into this. Somehow.

"Do you know what today is?"

The blue-eyed girl cocked her head to the side, blinking back at him. "It's Wednesday." After a beat, her brows furrowed, lips curling into a small pout. "Did you think I forgot how to tell the days of the week?"

Fakir barely resisted the sudden urge to slap a hand to his face in exasperation. Leave it to Ahiru to find the simplest conclusion and then blow things out of proportion by taking it as an insult. And really, he shouldn't have expected any less from her. His eyes closed briefly as he pulled in the fresh air with a patient breath.

"You don't remember?" he inquired lightly as his lids opened to allow his gaze to meet hers. His voice harbored a small and almost non-existent undertone of aggravation. He didn't know why he was pushing this. It didn't really matter if she realized why he'd chosen this day in particular, did it? Well, maybe it did. He went through the trouble or arranging it this way, after all, and he damn well wanted her to understand why.

The ex-knight crossed his arms, his brows arching down as she shook her head obliviously. This was just his luck, wasn't it. He sighed. "What happened three years ago today?"

Ahiru posed in thought, raising her toe-shoes to sit beneath her chin as she stared up into the colorful sky. "Three years ago today..." she parroted, tapping one shoe against her jaw. After a long moment of silence, she finally dropped her arms - and a look of utter horror crossed her features. "Oh, no!" she wailed. "Whose birthday was it? I can't remember! And I don't have a gift! Oh gosh-Fakir, is there still time?"

He could only stare at her, jaw slack. Ahiru was... something else. A birthday? She was panicked because she thought she forgot someone's goddamn birthday? His patience shattered like a smashed window pane. "No, you moron!" he snapped. One finger rose to press the temple of his forehead that had begun to throb. "It has nothing to do with a birthday! This was the day you turned back into a girl again - exactly three years ago!"

Her arms, which had begun to frantically wave around in wide circles, abruptly stopped. "...Oh." She lowered her hands slowly. "I guess... I forgot."

Fakir rolled his eyes. Great. His choice in a significant day for the both of them turned out to only reach that level with him - she hadn't even remembered. And he really disliked doing things that were a waste of effort or time.

"Is that what you called me out here for...?" she ventured uncertainly, rubbing the toe of one black shoe against a gap between planks in the dock.

"No," he bit out more harshly than intended, fueled by his growing irritation. Immediately, he regretted the slicing tone. He hadn't arranged this so they could have a fight. Clearing his throat, he spoke more softly, "No. There's... something else."

Her grin returned in the blink of an eye. "Oh! Well... what is it?"

She leaned forward, looking positively eager. Fakir opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. Dammit, why were those blasted nerves creeping back in now! Not even she could very well misunderstand what he had to ask!

As if in a desperate attempt to get a hold of himself, he plunged one hand down into his occupied pocket, extracting a small black box.

He was going to do this. He was really going to do this. He was going to ask her-!

Face alight with a bright flush from cheek to cheek, Fakir thrust the box at her, pulling the top open as he did so. Inside, a small sapphire jewel caught the dying sun's light, along with a spread of tiny studded wings on either side of it. Ahiru's eyes widened in shock.

The young man inhaled sharply, his arms beginning to shake ever so slightly. "A-Ahiru... will you-"

"Fakir, it's beautiful!" she gushed, cutting him right off with her shrill exuberance as she reached and plucked the ring from its confines. Immediately, she slipped the stone-encrusted object directly onto the middle finger of her right hand. "This is the first time you've ever given me anything like jewelry! I don't know what to say!"

Neither did Fakir. In fact, all he could do was stare at the ring, lips parted, his expression completely and utterly dumbfounded.

She didn't give him the chance to ask. She went and put the damn thing on the middle finger of the wrong hand. She didn't even understand that he was trying to ask her to marry him!

And he didn't know whether he wanted to scream in frustration or cry in despair. Ahiru was thickheaded, most certainly, but he thought she would understand this. He was so close to getting the words out and that idiot just had to go and interrupt him and-and ruin it!

His shoulders began to quake as she prattled on and on about the gift obliviously. He couldn't take this...! "You... you idiot!" he exploded, face red from both embarrassment and anger.

Startled, the redhead ceased her rambling about the ring, clutching her hands together as she faced him with a worried expression etched across her features. "Fakir? What's wrong? This... was for me, right?" She bit her lip, raising the hand where the band rested snugly on her middle finger.

"You didn't even let me finish!" he admonished scathingly. In one swift move, he reached out to grasp the wrist of her hand bearing the ring and shook it. "Do you even know what this is?" he hissed.

Ahiru was starting to look apprehensive, confusion lining every crevice of her face. "It's a-it's a ring!"

His eyes narrowed, teeth gnashing together. Why did he have to fall in love with such an infuriating idiot? "It's not just any ring! It's a special ring, you blockhead! One that I had specifically made to fit you!"

She blinked and then frowned down at her hand. "So that's why you were having me try on that silver thing a few weeks ago..."

"Don't change the subject!" he berated heatedly. And somehow, amidst his tirade, it hadn't crossed his mind that his attitude was probably weakening his chances of getting a favorable response. That is, if he ever even got to the full question.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, her lips pulled somewhere between a pout and a scowl. "I was just... really happy. And I acted without thinking and..."

A little bit of his ire ebbed away. This was typical of Ahiru. Maybe he should have even expected something like this to happen. Fakir sighed heavily. Perhaps he was being too harsh about this - after all, he was the one responsible for working himself up into this tense state to begin with. "It's on the wrong finger, moron." With his free hand, he took her left and lifted it beside the right, pressing her ring finger between his thumb and forefinger. "This is where it's supposed to go."

Ahiru looked between her hands, a sheepish noise and matching blush coloring either side of her face as she pulled her hands back and started to attempt to twist the ring off of where it was lodged on her middle finger. "I didn't know rings had to go on a certain finger," she confessed, her tone taking on a hint of frustration as she failed in getting the ring to loosen.

He opened his mouth to tell her why this ring needed to be treated specially, but stopped himself before the words could release. Now wasn't the time for that. He had to wait for a better opportunity - or at least before she tried to move the ring to her other hand. Until then, he had to be patient. So he watched her progress levelly, feeling a rather bad sensation churn inside of him when he noted that she wasn't slipping it right off even with ample effort.

"I think it's stuck," she ventured in a small voice.

Dammit - of course she wasn't getting it off easily; it was meant for a specific finger since he'd had it tailored that way. He made a grab for her hand. "Here. Let me. I'll get it off for you."

Stubbornly, she pulled her hand out of his reach and up to her chest protectively, a frown forming on her face as she sent a glare back at him. "I can do it fine! Just gimme a minute... I'll get it!"

Fakir was never good at waiting. And the more he watched her struggle with the little silver band, the more he wanted to just grab her fingers and yank the damn thing off before she somehow managed to break it. He wasn't thinking rationally, however. If he had, he would have considered bringing her to the jeweler and getting it removed properly, but that was miles from his mind at the moment.

Growing more aggravated with the trinket that was refusing to budge, the redhead snagged either side in a pinch between her index finger and thumb, pulling back as hard as she possibly could.

"Idiot!" Fakir snapped, stalking forward in a panic from the dread that his worst fears were about to be realized. "You're going to end up ruining it!"

But, in fact, she didn't break the ring.

And Fakir could only stare wide-eyed with disbelief as the ring came off-and sailed off into the air almost in slow motion, heading straight for-

KER-PLUNK.

Ahiru stared at the spot in the lake where the ring had fallen under the surface. She bit her lip. "Uh oh..."

'Uh oh' didn't nearly cut it, as far as Fakir was concerned. His eyes were glued to small rippled disturbance in the liquid where the band disappeared, his mouth hanging open in shock. Months of struggling to make book sales out of his work had gone into saving for the creation of that little piece of jewelry.

That tiny little thing lying on the bottom of the lake... how would he even...

"Do you realize how much that-!" Fakir couldn't even finish that growled out accusation and clenched his fists in exasperation. With one last agitated glower directed at his girlfriend, he dove right off the side of the dock and into the chilly water. The cold struck his skin like ice, but he mercilessly pushed his discomfort away.

He would damn well find that ring if he had to stay out here for the whole night, regardless of the water's temperature.

What he didn't expect, however, was a sudden surge of pressure from his right under the water-and a flash of red through the liquid; Ahiru had joined the search. But he paid no further heed to her sudden appearance. Finding the fallen ring was his objective. And the lake was relatively shallow near the dock, at least. The sun's fading rays were assisting marginally with a scant amount of light from above.

Yet he couldn't see it, no matter how wildly his eyes searched the lake's bottom. There were rocks, some sort of algae growing all around, and small pieces of water-logged driftwood, but the shining piece of jewelry was nowhere in his line of sight. Damn it all, why couldn't it just catch the light and give a telltale twinkle to its location?

The need for oxygen became unbearable, though, and he was forced to resurface, gasping for breath.

"Fakir!" her voice greeted him excitedly from nearby. It was slightly muddled with the water still in his ears. "Fakir, I-"

"Not now," he growled impatiently, throwing wet bangs out of his eyes. "We need to find that-"

"I found it!" she exclaimed, holding something small that caught the light in a very eye-catching way. Fakir squinted at it, wading a little closer to her.

"Are you sure that's..." he started uncertainly, but trailed off as his eyes widened with closer inspection of the object. It definitely was the engagement ring. "You found it," he exhaled softly in relief.

And then he swiped his fingers through the air quickly and snatched it straight from her hand.

"Hey!" the duck-girl exclaimed in dismay when the trinket was confiscated from her before she could lift a finger in protest. She splashed a small amount of water at him petulantly. "I thought that was for me! I'll put it on the right finger this time, I swear!"

Fakir flinched away from the water and pulled the hand clutching the ring away from her groping fingers. He pointed his free hand toward the shore. "Just get out of the water and wait for me on the bank," he instructed in a no-nonsense manner.

"But-!"

"Go."

She seemed as though she was going to protest again but stopped short, giving him a rather cross look before she obediently turned and swam for the edge of the lake.

Fakir merely watched her for a long moment, glancing between her retreating figure and the small band lying innocently in his hand. The ripples of the water behind her and the wet locks of her long red hair caught the glowing light in such a way that was more appealing to the eye than the sunset itself had been.

Or, perhaps, just to his eye.

Slowly, he started after her, lagging behind and clasping the small winged band securely in a fisted hand. This probably wouldn't be the best time to ask her that important of a question, particularly after what had just happened and how likely it was that they were both in sour moods already, but...

He felt that somehow now was the right time. She wasn't prepared for it. In fact, he was fairly certain that she still had no idea what the ring was for. And if he didn't ask her now - just when would he get the nerve to? How long would he put it off? Hadn't he already resolved to do this today?

Ahiru was standing on the shore waiting for him, arms crossed and cheeks puffed out in annoyance. She was clearly still unhappy about him taking the ring, but he hoped to changed that soon. That is, if this could possibly even go well after everything that had taken place since her arrival on the dock to meet him.

No, he berated himself inwardly. That didn't matter. The important thing was that he loved her and he wanted to spend his life with her. Nothing could change that, no matter how much of a moron she was or how many mistakes she made, or how much he clearly didn't deserve to have her light by his side in the first place.

He wanted to make her his - his wife, his companion, his lover, his life partner.

The space from one stone to the other was set in front of him now. And for once he wouldn't allow himself to be a coward. He had to make this leap if he wanted to move forward with her. There was a chance he wouldn't make the jump, but that was a risk he had to take. She was worth it.

With that thought, he trudged up onto the bank after her, drenched from head to toe and dripping onto the grass, his face angled down and hiding a rather luminescent blush. And before he could think twice about it, the young man dropped straight down to both knees in front of her - almost as a knight would bow before his lady.

Ahiru gasped. "Ohmygosh! Fakir! Are you okay? Did you get hurt? What's wrong? Did something... oh no! This is my fault, isn't it? I'm really-"

"Ahiru," he halted both her apology and her impending crouch to assist him with just the sound of her name. His face then lifted, showing the redness to his cheeks and a silent plead in his green eyes. She did not speak again - it almost looked to him as though she was suddenly left speechless just by that alone.

Fakir took a deep breath, raising the hand with the ring and unfurling it before her, his fingers opening like petals of a flower to show the beauty hidden within. The ring was laying nestled comfortably in the crevices of his palm. This time, she did not reach out to the take what was offered. Instead, her blue eyes met his gaze almost questioningly, as though she could tell there was definitely something more to his actions.

"F-Fakir...?"

"Ahiru," he repeated, gaze falling downward again as he took a preparatory breath. When he looked up at her once more, adoration shined unrestrained through his eyes, baring his heart through that gaze alone as he stared at her - the girl, the duck, that changed everything for him. She was soaking wet, red bangs clinging all over her face and neck, eyes broad with wonder, lips just slightly parted, freckles flushed across the bridge of her nose - and unfathomably beautiful to him in every way. His breath released. "Will you... will you marry me?"

The words were hardly a whisper, but he could tell that she heard him from the way her eyes widened just marginally further. His heart seemed to snag on something invisible within his chest. They had been dating for quite some time, yes, but this was a level of commitment that was far above such frivolous things. Even Ahiru was bound to realize that.

So it came as an abrupt shock when he felt himself practically tackled to the ground, her soft, wet weight laying on top of him and pressing his body down into the grass. It was only by blind instinct that he'd managed to close his fingers around the ring again before it could be dropped.

"Yes! Yes! Ohmygoshyoureally - yes!"

Her squeals were lost into the side of his neck, but he could literally feel the joy expressed in them. And Fakir seemed to have forgotten just how to breathe properly.

She accepted? She wanted to marry him? Even after that fiasco on the dock and in the water? And...

Dammit, what the hell did he care? She said yes!

For once, Fakir simply could not contain his elation. His arms wrapped right around her sopping form, holding her close as he smiled - smiled - into her hair. Words were falling from her lips - a number of them, at high speed - but he couldn't even make sense of them or bother to try. His mind was too completely overcome by her sheer presence for anything to sneak in edgewise.

Ahiru was going to be his wife.

He didn't know just how long it was before they finally pulled away from each other and sat back up, cheeks alight and flushed, hair sticking out and up everywhere, and clothes molded unbecomingly to their skin.

She held out her hand expectantly, smiling in such a way that made his heart give a strong pulse and pump faster and faster within his chest. This was real. She was real. It was all real.

"Can I have it now?" she inquired almost teasingly.

Fakir opened his fist to look at the ring and then glanced at her. He frowned. "No, I don't think I'll give it to you yet. I don't trust you not to fumble it again."

Her smile fell and was quickly replaced by a scowl. "What? But you just - I just-!" She sputtered, as if she somehow couldn't contemplate this turn of events. "I don't get it! Why won't you-"

He pressed a finger to her lips to silence her. And before she could swat his hand away, he took hold of her outstretched left hand and turned it over, gently slipping the ring onto the proper finger.

"There," he said at last. His lips quirked into a half-smile. "Satisfied?"

Ahiru blushed, blinking down at the silver band with jewel-encrusted wings and the tiny blue gem. "I don't know what to... thank you," she said almost breathlessly, her eyes conveying more to him than those words could hope to.

He leaned forward and placed a swift and chaste kiss against her lips. "I should be saying that to you," he murmured. "But seeing as you're stuck with me now, maybe an apology would be more appropriate?"

She giggled, pressing her hands to his chest and just barely suppressing a shudder from the sudden gust of the wind that blew over them. "I guess I can deal with you. Kinda like I already have been for a long time now."

Ever alert, the ex-knight picked up on her discomfort. "We should head back before you catch a cold," he informed her, getting to his feet.

"You're wet too!" she retorted. "You could catch one just as easily!" And as she moved to follow suit and rise up again, the redhead gave a sudden squeaky yelp when she felt herself lifted up into the air by a pair of strong and familiar arms.

Fakir cradled her right up against his chest securely, stepping off toward the cluster of trees nearby. "Carrying you home is the least I can do for my bride-to-be," he spoke, a tenderness in his tone that was very rare for him to use. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Consider it my thanks for making me happier than I ever thought I could be."

And Ahiru was left speechless, flushed from ear to ear once again. After all, just what could she say to that?


AN: Well. That turned out a bit fluffier and sappier than I was really intending, but... sometimes fics just seem to have a mind of their own as you go, you know? I hope you enjoyed it, anyway!

Feedback/reviews would be most welcome and greatly appreciated. I'm trying to get back into the swing of writing again, so I hope you will all have patience with me.

Thank you for reading!