All I've Ever Learned From Love
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is something I've been planning for a while, a sort of follow-up to Love is Not a Victory March, and hence, it also has a title from the lyrics of Rufus Wainwright's song Hallelujah. This time, the series of drabbles focuses on Autor's and Ahiru's thoughts mainly during the scenes from the show in which they had canonical interaction, as well as a couple of others. It's a continuing exploration of the concept in the other fic, which is for Autor and Ahiru to have met several times prior to Akt 21. And I'm trying something new again; there is no spoken dialogue. Thanks to Thyme in Her Eyes, who indirectly inspired me to actually write this!
The music student.
The unsociable one.
The one people said to stay away from.
She had not wanted to believe in the rumors going around the school. She knew firsthand how wrong they could be.
Autor was certainly rude. And arrogant. And he didn't like to be around people.
She had not liked him at first.
But . . . sometimes he had seemed nice.
He had walked her home in the rain, letting her share his umbrella.
He had played the piano for her when she had to stay after class and practice.
They had even talked a little bit here and there.
But he did not want to be friends.
It had hurt when he had rejected her offer of friendship. She had thought it was already a sure thing, yet he had felt otherwise.
Maybe, part of her thought, he was like Fakir and was just scared and didn't trust people. He had kind of hinted at that with his comments about friends betraying you.
Maybe, a dark part of her whispered, it wasn't that at all, but it was something about her herself. Maybe there was something about her that people did not like.
But she frowned, clutching her pendant. Fakir had warmed up to her. And she had thought Autor had been starting to. Maybe it was just something that would take time.
It had been strange enough to see a dark-cloaked figure disappear into the music building. And it had been stranger still when she had followed the person inside and had not found him anywhere. But neither of those things prepared her for the shock of going upstairs and hearing Fakir talking in one of the music practice rooms.
Her eyes widened in perplexity as she hurried to the half-open door. Fakir had been acting weird and distant all day. What was he doing here? And whom was he talking to?
When she heard Autor's voice, she stiffened in complete astonishment. What was going on? Why was Autor talking to Fakir? And . . . what did he mean by Drosselmeyer's power?
She held her breath, not wanting to be noticed. Autor was talking more, something about books with missing endings and Stories coming to life. And he wanted to teach Fakir about using the power. But . . . Fakir would have to follow his every order? And prepare to die?
Alarm bells went off in her head. Without further thought she tore into the room, her eyes flashing with anger as she demanded an explanation. Autor was different than what she had thought. Maybe she should be glad he had rejected the idea of them being friends.
But then he silenced her by saying that he had been giving Fakir a warning, and suddenly she was conflicted again.
They did not acknowledge aloud that they knew each other. Somehow it felt unnecessary. They knew, and they knew that they were not likely to ever again have a pleasant acquaintance. Ahiru's attempt at being friends had failed. He was too stubborn and too aloof; she was too sweet and too confused.
Completely aside from that, however, he did not want her or that child—or anyone at all—to follow Fakir inside. It would make things far too distracting, to say nothing of the fact that he did not want anyone in the study except those who could fully appreciate its significance.
He looked her firmly in the eyes when he told her that there was to be no entourage for Fakir's training. She stiffened, looking taken aback, and tried to protest.
She called him "Mr. Autor", he noted.
He could see the distress in her eyes; she did not know what to think of him anymore. Ever since he had turned down her offer of friendship, they had been growing more distant. Not that they had ever particularly been close, but previously there had been more camaraderie between them.
He did not want to repeat himself, he said aloud, even while these thoughts were passing through his mind.
She did not ask again.
She watched as Fakir walked through the door Autor was holding open for him. She and Uzura could not follow, for whatever reason, but Fakir seemed okay with it. Maybe he understood something about Autor's actions that she did not.
She felt slapped in the face. Why was Autor acting like this? She clutched a hand at her collar, fighting back the turmoil. It was bad enough to have to worry about how Fakir was going to deal with and learn about his powers. But not knowing anymore what she thought of Autor or whether he was really the nice person she had previously believed only complicated everything. She did not even know if she trusted him, after the strange things he had said yesterday.
Autor was looking at her now, actually. His expression was unreadable, the sunlight reflecting off his glasses. But it was only for a moment. He stepped inside the vestibule, pulling the door with him.
It groaned shut with a burst of finality. She gazed at it, whispering a wish for good luck under her breath.
But, she realized, as she turned to leave with Uzura, she was no longer sure what the good luck pertained to.
She had been too loud.
Her pounding on the door with both fists had been nerve-racking, not to mention distracting. He had gone and opened it as quickly as possible, not wanting Fakir's concentration to be broken any more than it likely now was.
He had ignored the panic in her eyes and her voice when he had ordered her to be quiet. Even if some part of him regretted it, he ignored that too. Or he had thought he had, anyway. After all, he had been pushing people away for years without second thoughts. There was no reason to start doubting himself now.
But if that were so, why did it continue to bother him as she ran past him and to the collapsing Fakir in the study?
Most of their communication now consisted of her yelling at him. Today was no exception. She had already not liked the terms he had set for Fakir's success. Now she accused him of hurting Fakir. And she did not like his method of honing Fakir's mind by having him stare into the distance, focusing on nothing.
She did not like him, either.
At least, he was certain she did not. But that was alright; it was better that way. He doubted he would be a good friend, and he did not want to even try. Friendship was weak and self-centered, born of wanting something from the other person. Once they had it, they left.
Yet he knew Ahiru was not like that. He knew it, but he was still not willing to venture into a territory that had previously only wounded him.
Deep down, he was afraid.
But he would not let himself reflect any of that. Instead he smirked, telling her his reasons behind the seemingly harsh training when she asked. Then he half-turned away from her, pushing up his glasses as he looked off at nothing in particular.
Maybe he just did not want her to see the flicker of hurt in his eyes from her accusation.
He relished the fact that he had the information Fakir needed. That had been one of the aspects he had enjoyed the most about this whole venture. He knew there were a lot of things he was not aware of. There were others who knew far more than he did. But no one had done more research on Drosselmeyer and the living Stories than he. It felt good to know that Fakir needed him and his knowledge. As long as he was in control and knew others were not using him, he liked to be beneficial.
And as he spoke of the Story-Spinners' oak tree that night, he had a captive audience.
Fakir was willing to do what had to be done to test his powers, even though there was a chance he could die. Autor had expected that of him. And Ahiru was not willing to let him go through with it, terrified of losing him. Autor had expected that, as well.
But he had not expected to feel a strange emotion as she ran forward, desperate to stop Fakir from touching the rock. Without a second thought he caught hold of her arm and her shoulder. She was not to interfere; this was something Fakir had to do.
And anyway, just supposing Fakir could make contact with the oak tree, there was a possibility she might be harmed if she tried to stop him.
Did that thought . . . frighten him?
His heart hammered in his chest, even as he appeared outwardly calm. No, he was not afraid. How ridiculous.
The clock stopped its hourly chimes, signifying the point when the oak tree was supposed to make contact. But he frowned as he watched the scene. Nothing had changed. Had he been wrong? Perhaps Fakir's power was not strong enough after all.
He smirked, letting go of Ahiru as he walked over to Fakir. It was useless to stay here; Fakir might as well get up and go home.
But as he touched Fakir's shoulder, a pain unlike anything he had ever before felt passed from Fakir's body and into his own. He could only scream as he was thrown backwards by the force of the electricity.
She was not even fully sure what was happening. The blue-white light was suddenly bursting forth from Fakir when Autor touched him. She shielded her eyes, unable to do much else. Autor gave one pained cry and then was silent.
A rough thump brought her eyes flying open. Quickly she glanced over her shoulder, her heart racing in horror. Autor was lying on the grass several feet away, not moving. But . . . how had he gotten all the way over there? Fear clenched her heart. Was he . . .
Tears pricked her eyes. She was angry with him, but she did not want him to be dead.
And Fakir! What about Fakir? She whirled back to look at him. He was still kneeling in a stupor by that rock. And as the oak tree's test began in full force, all thoughts of Autor were driven from her mind.
It was only once Fakir was safe, free from the tree that had threatened to swallow him, that she remembered. Again she looked over her shoulder, the relief and joy that had just been born swiftly evaporating into the night air.
Autor had not been dead; he was lying on his stomach now, whereas before he had been on his back. But he was not moving again. She cried out to him, the plea catching in her throat.
Fakir stirred in her arms, glancing over with half-open eyes. What was going on, he wondered. What had happened to Autor? He remembered nothing of the electricity that had channeled through his body and into the other boy.
She apologized to him, leaning him gently against a larger rock as she hurried to Autor's side. Fakir would be alright, but what about Autor?
She bent down in front of him, trying to feel if he was breathing. For a moment her heart nearly stopped; she was not sure she could feel anything. But then she relaxed in rekindling relief and joy. He was alive; she could feel his breath and see his shoulders rising and falling.
Fakir stumbled up shortly afterwards, sending her to find some water. And as she knelt beside Autor moments later, brushing a damp cloth over his face, she was rewarded when his eyes fluttered and opened.
But he could only gaze at her in confusion. She had forgotten to turn back into Ahiru; what he saw tending to him was a beautiful white swan.
She was everywhere.
He already saw her at school, with Fakir, and in the park. Whether he liked it or not, she had also been intruding into his thoughts. Now, as he was returning to the grounds of Drosselmeyer's abandoned estate, he saw her again—limp and unconscious as Fakir pulled her into his arms.
Who was she, really? How had she gotten here, by Drosselmeyer's grave? What had happened to her?
Fakir was in no mood to answer Autor's queries, except concerning the Story. Yes, he had stopped its backwards flow. He would not allow that to happen anymore. He wanted the Story-Spinning power to protect people, nothing else.
It took Autor aback for a moment. He had never heard anyone say they wanted power for such a reason. But he had no time to think further on it, as Fakir was asking him a question now.
As they conversed, Autor's gaze went back to Ahiru's motionless form. She would be alright, wouldn't she?
Fakir's expression darkened. Yes, she would.
It sounded more like a vow than a simple statement.
But as he walked past holding her, Autor could not help but feel relieved.
They were standing in the doorway of his house—him, Ahiru, Fakir, and Uzura. Ahiru was saying goodbye, smiling bravely as she looked to each of them. But there was sadness in her smile and in her eyes.
Autor felt something in his heart clench. They all knew she could die out there in the final battle. He had already learned one of her secrets—that she was a duck. He had not thought she could be hiding anything more preposterous and amazing than that, but she was.
She was also Princess Tutu, the tragic and ill-fated heroine in The Prince and the Raven.
He gazed at her from when he was quietly leaning against the doorway. She was bidding farewell to Fakir and Uzura, but surely not to him. During the time he had discovered she was a duck, she had tried to reach out to him in friendship again, but he had refused. There was no reason for her to keep trying.
But he could not help the flicker of sorrow that went through his eyes. What if she didn't come back from this? She was far too young to die; she had her whole life ahead of her. And yet he could see that she was willing to give it all up if that was what it took to save Mytho.
Even if she did not die, her life was going to be permanently changed after this fight. The pendant that gave her a girl's body was the last of Mytho's heart shards. She had to give it up, hence reverting back forever to a little duck. Neither he nor Fakir nor Uzura would ever be able to carry on a conversation with her again in which she would be able to answer and be understood.
He had thought that she was just an irritating, clumsy girl when they had met during the first of eleven times he had played the piano for the ballet class. Yet his opinions had swiftly changed as they had interacted further. Yes, she was still frustrating, and she still talked too much, but she was braver and more courageous than probably most of the students in the academy.
Could even he be that valiant? For all his talk of wanting to do something important, could he, if it meant he might not survive it—or if it meant his entire existence would be altered? Or would he be too afraid if it came right down to it?
Ahiru turned, catching his eye. She smiled again, clearly meaning it for him, and he froze in stunned surprise. Even without his consent to become friends, she was not ignoring him or turning her back on him. She still cared about him.
And something in him caught hold of his heart and his throat. He wanted to push away from the doorframe, to tell her not to go out there, to not risk her life so foolishly.
But he gripped his arms and stayed silent. Fakir was surely hurting far worse than he, and Fakir was not losing his mind and pleading with her to stay. He knew, just as Autor did, that she had to go. She was the only one who could do what had to be done.
Still, when Uzura reached out and took hold of Ahiru's skirt, her blue eyes filled with unshed tears, Autor had to admit that he felt for her. It was what he still wanted to do. Well, not to grab Ahiru's skirt, certainly (Heaven forbid!), but to hold her back, to keep her from running off into possible doom.
Instead, he could only watch, as could Fakir and Uzura, as she hurried down the street and towards the town square.
He had not prayed in years, having turned bitter and hurt towards God after his parents' deaths, but he found himself praying now for Ahiru's victory—and her life.
Fakir was writing. Unlike the hours before, when he had struggled with writer's block and had only written when Drosselmeyer had forced him to pen a murderous abomination, the Story was flowing from his quill. And whatever reality was having him write, whatever was happening out there in the battle with the Monster Raven and Ahiru and Mytho, it was making Fakir agonized. He sprang to his feet, calling Ahiru's name as he turned and ran for the direction of the door.
Autor started to attention. Fakir could not leave! What could he do if he went out in that? His role in this miserable Story was the knight who would always fail. Autor grabbed him, restraining him from recklessly completing his flight, as he was fighting to do.
They were both forced to stay here, as much as they longed to leave and go to the battle. Fakir was a useless knight. Autor was a useless writer. The only thing they could do was to adapt to the roles they had decided to claim instead. Fakir would write. Autor would be his adviser.
That was all that could be done.
But as Autor raised his voice in desperation, wanting to keep Fakir from making a literally fatal mistake, his own inner turmoil spilled into his tone.
He wanted to go out there too. He wanted to help Ahiru.
Yet he knew, as the truth of his words finally sank into Fakir's brain, this was the only way they could help her.
He was hurting all over. The fight with the Bookmen's leader had left him battered, bruised, and with a headache that was threatening to send him into oblivion.
And the battle was still taking place somewhere outside these walls. Ahiru was out there, risking her life to help bring a happy ending to all of them. She was most likely hurt too.
He looked to Fakir with half-open, near-sighted eyes, rasping his last instructions. Fakir had to write. He had to write for the one who was waiting for his Story.
The one they both loved.
Though he did not say that last part aloud, he was thinking it as he faded into the darkness. In that state of vulnerability, he could at last admit it to himself.
She was so small, so fragile, as a duck.
He had seen her in that form before, but it did nothing to lessen his stunned shock and his horror when Fakir entered holding her limp body in his hands. The crows had left her so wounded it was a miracle she was still alive. Any other duck, he was sure, would have perished long ago.
But of course, no other duck would have done what she had.
Against his better judgment he ran over, calling her name as he stared at the frail form. This was Ahiru, the clumsy, cheery girl who had refused to give up until she had worked her way firmly into his heart. And now she was no longer a girl at all.
But as she weakly opened her blue eyes and focused on him, there was no mistake.
She was still Ahiru.
He reached up, removing his glasses as he wiped at his eyes. It was his allergies, he explained to Fakir.
Yes, just allergies.
It was cold that night.
He straightened from adding another log to the fire, glancing back at the sleeping girl on the couch. A slight smirk of amusement passed over his features.
Reaching for the fleece throw at the back of the couch, he spread it open and draped it over her peaceful form. She stirred faintly, burrowing under the new, soft thing and mumbling something incoherent.
Drosselmeyer's Story had ended long ago. But Ahiru had returned to being a duck for only a short time. She had since been granted her humanity once more.
Despite his bird allergies, Autor had gone to see her several times in the garden or on the lake. But he had been happy when she had been allowed to return to being a girl. He had still somewhat outwardly resisted the feelings he had realized he had for her, although by then he had really known it was a feeble and futile effort. He loved her as a dear friend and had for a long time. And when they had gotten lost in the woods, he had at last admitted it to himself and to her.
She was like a sister to him now. And he wanted, more than anything, for her to be happy.
He was sorry for all the times he had hurt her in the past. He had told her so shortly after the incident in the woods, but she had smiled and said it was alright and forgave him. She knew about his painful childhood now, and the supposed friends who had betrayed him, and she had understood his fear of trying to make friends.
She stirred again, blinking glazed blue eyes at him. He regarded her, still amused, telling her exactly how long she had been dozing on his couch.
She made a face at him. He was so smug and he had some weird obsession with numbers. But she smiled and sat up, inviting him to share the throw with her on the chilly autumn night. She was happy he was her friend.
And, he knew as he sat beside her and was adorned with part of the throw, so was he.