By the Secret Water's Edge
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This was partially inspired by the prompt Garden at 10 Prompts. It's a short post-series piece, taking place when Ahiru is a duck. It alludes briefly to some of my other fics, but nothing really needs to be read first to understand this.
Ahiru perked up in surprise at the sound of footsteps on the grass that evening. Was Fakir back already? He had said he needed to help Charon with some things after dinner and he would be back for her later. Or, of course, she could come on her own if she wanted.
Ahiru was content to swim for a while longer. The water flowing through the garden by the wall was peaceful tonight. And the weather was mild, so it was enjoyable to be out. She flapped her wings, quacking happily to herself.
But she frowned, as only a duck could frown, when she caught her reflection in the water. She sighed in resignation, her good mood escaping from her.
She should not let it happen; she should be content to be what she was meant to be. Or so she told herself whenever these feelings came over her. She had thought she had accepted it fully in the Lake of Despair, when Fakir had comforted her. Once the long days of being out of Drosselmeyer's Story had begun, however, she had come to quite a different realization.
There was really not a great deal to do as a duck. When she had known nothing else, naturally she had been perfectly happy with swimming and bobbing and looking for food and sunning herself on the grassy banks. But after having talked and danced, and having experienced the full run of human emotions, it seemed so dull and drab. Well, it was still nice in moderation; it was imagining a whole lifetime of only that which depressed her.
Still, she had duck and other bird friends, and Fakir was always there as he promised, and . . .
She ran her beak over her right wing. As long as Fakir was here, she would be happy no matter what form she was in. Even though she could not help wishing she could actually talk with him sometimes.
But she could not, so that should be the end of it.
"Ahiru? Are you here?"
She perked up in surprise at the familiar, yet unexpected, voice. "Quack?" Autor? She paddled to the edge of the water, only to be met by the bright glow of a flashlight. She squinted in displeasure. "Quack."
"I'm sorry." Autor drew the beam away. He was standing nearby, but not so close that his allergies would bother him. "How are you tonight?"
Ahiru tried to look cheerful. It wasn't that hard; she was happy to see him. "Quack!" she said.
"Good." Autor smirked at her, adjusting his glasses. "Has Fakir been treating you well?"
She gave him an irritated glare. "Quack."
"I'll take that as a Yes." Autor crossed his arms. "Is he coming back for you tonight?"
"Quack!" Ahiru waddled onto the bank, shaking her feathers dry.
Autor stepped back, not wanting to be accidentally sprayed. The moonlight reflected off of his glasses, but Ahiru did not need to see his eyes to know that he was uncomfortable. It was not exactly a one-sided conversation, but Autor was the one attempting to start subjects. That was how it had to be, and when he was not discussing his research or Drosselmeyer's stories or some other topic that he felt passionate about, he did not tend to begin conversations.
But he came to see her anyway. Why? She had never been able to get him to agree that they were friends when she had been human. And she had thought he would leave her alone now that she was back in her true form. Surely he would be relieved to not have to deal with that annoying girl anymore.
She gazed up at him, melancholy sweeping over her heart and soul. She wanted to talk to him. Really talk to him, and ask why he came, and how he was doing, and if he was looking after Fakir as Fakir continued to try to hone his Story-Spinning powers. She wanted to ask him so many things and just sit with him, enjoying his company.
But she could not even do that. It would be impossible for her to perch on his shoulder or snuggle next to him, as she did with Fakir. Autor could not let her get close to him at all. They were forced to communicate from a distance.
I can't help it; I want to be human again, she thought sadly to herself. I want to talk to Fakir and Autor and Piké and Lilie and study ballet and . . .
She started back to the present at Autor's voice. He sounded serious now, and concerned.
"Ahiru, are you happy?" he asked. "Not just now, but with your . . . current state."
Ahiru tried to look cheery once more. "Quack!" she proclaimed.
"Really?" Autor said, peering closer at her.
"Quack," Ahiru said with a nod. She had to be happy with this; there was nothing that could be done to change it.
Autor frowned. "I don't believe you," he said.
Ahiru stared at him, taken aback. Suddenly she was not sure whether to snap at him for calling her a liar (even though she was) or to concede his point and allow him to see the sadness that she had tried to keep from Fakir.
"Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying it's wrong to be a duck, or even that it isn't possible for you to be happy as one. But it's obvious that, at least now, you aren't happy.
"You see," Autor continued, tapping his glasses, "the spark isn't in your eyes."
Ahiru lowered her head. "Quack," she mumbled.
Autor frowned. "Hasn't Fakir noticed?" he said.
"Quack." Maybe I've been better at keeping it from him, Ahiru thought. Or maybe I just got really sad tonight and I couldn't hide it.
"Of course, he does tend to have a problem with seeing what's right in front of him, but I thought . . ."
"Quack!" Ahiru retorted angrily. "Quack quack quack!"
Autor started. "You know it's true as well as I do," he said.
Ahiru turned her back on him. He frowned.
"Ahiru, if he doesn't know, you should allow me to tell him," he said.
She whirled back, her eyes wide. "Quack!" No! It will just hurt him. And there's nothing we can do to change this.
Autor sighed. "Ahiru . . ."
"Quack," Ahiru said matter-of-factly.
Autor hesitated. "If he could change you back, would you want that?" he queried.
Ahiru stiffened and looked down. She could not pretend that idea would not bring her happiness. Sometimes she had dreamed about transforming back. Usually she was dancing with someone, sometimes Mytho, sometimes Fakir, and sometimes she was not sure whom. But then it would end and she would wake to find herself still a little duck, unable to dance or talk or do any of the things she had come to love as a human.
"You know," Autor said, "it's what Fakir wants too. He's just too stubborn to admit it because he's so certain you're supposed to be a duck." He crossed his arms. "But sooner or later it's going to catch up with him."
Ahiru looked at him in confusion. "Quack?" But I am supposed to be a duck. . . .
"If you can't be content as a duck, and if Fakir can't be content with letting you stay that way, it's nothing to be ashamed of," Autor said. "I've tried to tell that to Fakir, but he's too obstinate to listen."
"Quack!" Ahiru scolded.
"No, I won't apologize," Autor said. "And I won't stop trying to get Fakir to understand." For the first time, an edge had come into his voice. But as he looked down at her, his tone softened. "I just want you to be happy." Looking uncomfortable, he half-turned and added, "And him as well. I can see that won't happen if you remain a duck."
Ahiru stared up at him, stunned. At the moment she was not sure what she found more surprising—that Autor wished for their happiness or that he was telling her it was not wrong for her to become human.
"I should be going," he said as he glanced to her, flushing from having revealed something that he had not particularly wanted to. "Goodnight, Ahiru."
"Quack," Ahiru said softly. But as he turned and began to walk away, she chased after him, quacking desperately.
He stopped and looked back, surprised himself. Ahiru halted where she was in clear view, tears glistening in her blue eyes.
"Quack," she said again. Thank you, Autor, for caring about me. Fakir's stayed with me, just like he promised to do. But even though you didn't promise, and you say you don't want to be friends, you've stayed too.
A slight smile graced Autor's lips before he walked out of the garden.