[A/N] Here is this chapter, my gift to you readers for the holidays. What happened to Fakir, and why did he leave Ahiru all alone in the middle of the night, potentially even losing a stamp on his man card? Bonus points to Hanacchan, who pointed out that in this AU, Fakir is the author of Death Note. You may have to resist the urge to shake your fist at Drosselmeyer, who stubbornly refuses to stop meddling.

Without further ado...

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." Shakespeare, Hamlet

Chapter 26: Swan Siren

Fakir burst out of the boys' dormitory to go to the practice room he and Ahiru shared for lessons, looking forward to her chatter more than he would have liked to admit.

That was when time stopped. The girls hurrying past him became frozen in all their chattering glory. The water in the fountain sparkled as it hung in midair. Fakir looked around in concern. What was going on? Whirling around, he saw a peculiar old man walking towards him. The sight was quite odd, especially since he was the only thing that was unfrozen besides Fakir.

"Fakir."

Fakir took a step back suspiciously. "How do you know my name?"

"You are my creation." Drosselmeyer said grandly.

"My father is dead." Fakir told him suspiciously. "And if you are my father, then please say it now and save us a whole lot of confusion."

Instantly, Drosselmeyer became peeved. "Not in that way. I am the grandmaster of this chessboard. You are merely the knight."

"Please just leave me alone!" Crazy people, Fakir thought, saying crazy things. Only a matter of time till I'm one of them.

"Come with me. There are some things you need to know."

There didn't seem to be much of a choice. Fakir followed the old man into the forest, his hand on the hilt of his sword at his hip.

"I should let you know that I don't believe in magic," Fakir stated, nose in the air. Only after the sentence had come out of his mouth did he realize how silly he sounded.

The old man chuckled. "This is not magic. This is reality."

"This isn't real! I'm...I'm dreaming! It's inside my head!"

"Of course it's inside your head...but why should that mean that it isn't real?"

Fakir scowled. "No. It's not that simple!"

"My name is Drosselmeyer. You may be surprised to learn that I know everything about you...not just your name...but your darkest fears, deepest, most desperate desires, what makes your heart catch in your chest, why your character is the way it is...because I made it so."

Deeply unnerved, Fakir made no answer. He noticed that the world around them had started moving again as they walked through the forest, for leaves rustled and crows called above. Fakir had an eerie feeling as they headed deep into the forest.

"Finally, we are here." Drosselmeyer said with a smile. His smile was as incongruous to the rest of his face as was a rose in the fingers of a skeleton.

Fakir's palms began to sweat, and he became certain that the old man was up to no good; they had stopped in a dark clearing surrounded by ominous trees. "What do you want?"

"I do not want anything. I shall simply ask you something... Tell me, Fakir, do you want to protect Mytho?"

"Yes!" I haven't been lately...Ahiru's taken up all my attention, and I hardly have any time for Mytho, but...

"Do whatever it takes to save him?"

"Of course!"

"And what is the greatest threat to his safety?"

"That dark swan princess." Fakir said without thinking. He hadn't even known that she was still occupying a large portion of his thoughts, even though she had appeared so long ago.

"Think, Fakir." Drosselmeyer hissed. "Who could she be?"

"It doesn't matter." Fakir told him defiantly, pushing away thoughts of Mytho's empty expression. "She hasn't appeared anymore."

"Is that what you think?"

Fakir paused.

"Perhaps, in the dead of the night while you are asleep, he has quietly escaped to see her. Oh, you trusted him, didn't you? Foolish, foolish…And even if he didn't, his mind remains on her." Drosselmeyer said confidentially.

Fakir strained his mind, trying to remember what he had noticed about Rue or Mytho recently. Nothing much came to his thoughts. For the past few weeks, he hadn't been paying very much attention to Mytho. He had been too preoccupied with Ahiru to make sure Mytho was all right. Guilt leaped in his stomach. How could Fakir have forgotten about Mytho so entirely?

"I think she's connected to Rue." Fakir said decisively, ignoring his thudding heartbeat.

"And why so?"

Fakir struggled to explain himself. "I'm not sure. There's something in her eyes…"

"Perhaps you are focusing on the wrong person." Fakir tried to hide his puzzlement. Rue and Mytho had broken apart a while ago, but it was obvious Rue was still vying for his attention. Maybe the old man didn't know what he was talking about, or perhaps Fakir was the one out of the loop. Drosselmeyer watched with sparkling eyes as Fakir shifted awkwardly, beginning to question his own assumptions.

"Yes…"

"Wouldn't someone else, someone with nothing to lose, seek him? Someone who did not own his heart already, had never been able to claim ownership to his heart before?"

"But who?" Fakir asked curiously, forgetting he was supposed to be grumpy.

"Cunning indeed…not only to bewitch the prince… but, in the name of distraction, to befriend the knight who has sworn to protect him…and perhaps do more than befriend…"

Fakir's mind spun. He hadn't been 'befriended' by anyone…who could it be? Someone who was trying to distract him with companionship…who?

Ahiru.

"No! She's not! I refuse to believe it!" Fakir yelled, suddenly furious. Unbidden, the image of Ahiru stroking the blackly feathered wings of the raven rose to his mind.

Drosselmeyer watched with amusement. "Really? Doesn't it make perfect sense?"

"No!" Fakir answered hotly.

"Her false innocence is truly opaque; you cannot see the darkness behind her blue eyes. Your Ahiru may have more than one motive in her 'romance' with you…"

"No way, you sick bastard!" Fakir shouted, hands already balled into fists. "I know Ahiru! You're nothing but a damn liar! Go to hell!"

"I've been there already. It's quite nice, thank you very much." Drosselmeyer answered. His calmness made Fakir even more angry, but he was forced to remain quiet amidst his churning thoughts.

"Think, my boy. Think some more. Why else would she be in Mytho's room, searching through his papers?"

"She didn't mean to!" He retorted, but he knew his logic was faulty and his response was weak.

"Did she ever explain what she was doing? Were you ever able to see past her innocent charm to even ask the question?"

"No." Fakir said in a low tone, loathing himself for having to say so.

"And the ravens...they seem to like her quite well, don't you agree?"

That gentle smile she usually reserved for Fakir, directed towards the creatures that had murdered his parents...Her slender fingers carressed the dark tufts atop its head as she held the monstrous, black-taloned raven close to her steadily-beating heart..."I love you." She had said. "I love you."

Wasn't she supposed to love Fakir? Not the ravens. Not them.

Fakir's breath halted painfully. "No. She...I don't think...She doesn't..."

"She is the princess of the ravens, and she wanted to him to be completely hers. You stood in her way, but you were no trouble to dispose of. A couple of kind words, a kiss here and there, a coquettish look…and you fell for it without a second thought."

"I refuse to believe it!" Fakir said angrily, his conviction suddenly renewed. "I refuse!"

"Will you refuse to believe this?" Drosselmeyer asked, motioning towards...was that a gear turning in midair? With a moving picture...no, a scene upon it...of Fakir and Ahiru?

"Do not question it." Drosselmeyer said. "Simply watch and understand your folly."

There was Fakir, holding Ahiru in an arabesque as he lectured her about the line of her gaze. Fakir remembered that conversation well as he saw his own lips moving soundlessly in words he had said before. Don't look at the floor, you're not a snail. Line of sight goes upwards, as if you're an angel reaching for the heavens.

"I don't understand. Wait, what-" Fakir's words stopped.

The image of Ahiru portrayed on the gear bid Fakir farewell as he strode out of the building. She stayed behind, untying her slender pink pointe shoes. Finally, she stood calmly all alone in the center of the room, facing her reflection in the mirror. Was he imagining the dark, glossy feathers that materialized out of nowhere at her feet? Suddenly, her entire form was enveloped with a dense cloud of whirling feathers. In less than five seconds, they had settled to reveal another girl...the dark swan princess.

The scene cut to Fakir, curled up on his side in his bed, fast asleep and oblivious to the light footsteps of Mytho as he tiptoed out the door silently. Fakir was allowed a final glimpse of the dark swan princess and Mytho, engaged in a dance that was somehow infused with eloquence and passion.

"Why should I trust you?" Fakir snarled, loath to believe what Drosselmeyer had told him.

"I have your best interest in mind. I couldn't bear to see you so completely blinded to the truth. It was obvious that she truly bewitched you…"

"Why are you showing me this?" Fakir demanded.

"You would not have been able to see it otherwise. You have been blinded to her charms, Fakir. As the creator of your story, I felt obligated to tell you. I hate to put you through such pain, but the consequences would have been far greater than you could possibly imagine."

"Wait! How can she turn into a...another swan maiden?" Fakir asked incredulously, shaking his head. "That girl was obviously not completely human. If wings had unfolded from her back, I wouldn't have been surprised. And how does she make him evil?"

Drosselmeyer nodded. "Good questions, my dear boy. She is the villain of this story; a siren, as it were. I'm sure you're familiar with the sirens of mythology, the entrancing bird-women who would sing enchantingly, luring innocent sailors to destruction. This swan-girl is not much different; however, instead of song she uses the art of dance to call unsuspecting innocents into evil. Your prince... what happens is that he becomes so captivated by her that he unquestioningly follows her will. She suspected that you would be immune to those charms, but a charade of innocence...well, that did the trick."

Fakir's eyes narrowed at the thought. "Does that mean...she is trying to lead Mytho to his destruction?"

"Ah! But it shall come to pass. Her presence has changed him, and he is hurdling down a completely different path! My dear knight, you are too late to save anybody but yourself!" Drosselmeyer said emphatically. "It is too late for Mytho. Had you noticed sooner, had you come to realize what she truly was, you may have been able to yank him out of her grip! But now, you must leave him to her clutches and run from the siren, who threatens to steal your soul even as we speak."

"So she's trying to...steal my soul?" Fakir asked, horrified. He backed away, cheeks burning hotly, as if to hide from the old man. Every irrational paranoia that had ever woken him in the middle of the night had now snowballed into a single horrendous nightmare.

"Let me tell you this, my boy. For the siren, nothing is more important than leading innocent souls into evil. You shall soon see what I mean by that. And those she cannot bend to her ways? She must be more insiduous, more cunning. She employed every manuever to distract you, to keep you from seeing your true purpose, and eventually...she would have asked for your soul. You would not have noticed until it was too late. And, being blind to the danger, thinking yourself a romantic hero, you would have acquiesced all too readily. You would never come between her and her prince again."

Fakir felt sickened. To think that Ahiru had been the dark ballerina princess all along...that she was actually a siren... the ground had been shaken beneath his feet. If this was a story grounded in fantasy as the old man had said, it was entirely possible that Ahiru could transform into another creature. It was completely feasible to imagine that she had bewitched both Mytho and Fakir, laughing at them both. Fakir's hand clapped over his mouth as he remembered the kiss they had shared in the practice room. How he had given her his complete trust. Confided in her. Called her an ostrich. Protected her from a pack of wolves. Almost dueled Femio. Everything, for a darkly bewitching ballerina...swan siren.

I've got to talk to Mytho about this. Maybe he'll tell me what's actually going on. Fakir told himself, trying to remain logical in the face of catastrophe.

"I watched, growing frightened that you would not be able to regain your wits and understand what was going on in time to save your prince. She was too powerful for you, I'm sorry to say. I should have warned you sooner, but the heartbreak is inevitable now."

"Let me get this straight...Ahiru is actually a...a swan siren, who seduced Mytho and tried to, well, succeeded at distracting me from realizing what was going on? And she was planning to corrupt Mytho into evil and steal my soul?"

"Beware. The swan siren is a being of mighty force, one that cannot be underestimated. Only your soul can be rescued from eternal damnation now. Countless others will pay the price. Listen to me, boy, and save yourself from her. Farewell."

The old man turned away and disappeared as he walked into the shadows of the trees.

Fakir found his way from the haunted forest clearing to the lake, looking over the calm waters as his heart ached in humiliation and grief. At some point, time must have started again, but Fakir was in no state to notice.

When the moon had risen directly above the lake and the stars sung in clear harmony, Fakir trudged back to the boys' dormitory.

Ahiru, the swan siren.

End of Act III