It breaks my heart to see her like this. Of course, I knew all along. Ducks don't live as long as humans do, after all. She's getting old.

Fakir sighed as he watched Ahiru slowly swim in circles, her eyes still glowing with the determination he saw in Princess Tutu. But her movements have become more strained over the years. Not that a duck is graceful to begin with, but now every action she took seemed like a struggle.

Ahiru looked down at her reflection in the water. I can see the pity in his eyes. I'm only a duck, after all. Not a person. Why should he care what happens to me? I've lived a more fulfilling life than any duck could ever dream of having. And yet… is it selfish of me to want more?

He took the book out of his pack, the pages crumpled and smudged. Every day he came to the lake to be with Ahiru he brought that book, and more than once Ahiru's excited splashing had damaged its pages. But he didn't care, it made no difference. That book was their story, and he knew how much she longed to relive it.

He opened it once again and began to read. "Once upon a time, there was a courageous and handsome prince, beloved by all of his subjects…"

Ahiru listened intently, hanging on Fakir's every word. I've heard it so many times that I know it by heart. And yet each time it fills me with such hope and wonder. Thank you, Fakir.

It didn't matter how long it took him to read to the final page, Fakir never even stopped to take a breath. But this time was different. He just couldn't bring himself to reach the end. He saw that Ahiru was shivering, and gently picked her up out of the water, cradling her in his arms. "Come on, Ahiru," he said softly as he walked back to his home.

Ahiru looked up at Fakir's face as he walked, carrying her. She couldn't help but notice the tears welling up in his eyes. Are you crying for me, Fakir?

When he reached his door he sighed, opening it slowly. He tenderly placed Ahiru on his bed, wrapping her wet feathers in a soft, warm blanket. Without speaking a word, he sat down at his desk and started to write.

If I have the gift to make stories come to life, why can I not free Ahiru from this fate?

He experimented with the wording, with the writing style, and with the tenses. He didn't know what else to do. The story was not becoming real, and Ahiru was running out of time. Frustrated, he kept writing, every so often crumpling up the paper and starting over again. He kept at it until it was very late, and without even realizing it, he fell asleep, still with the pen in his hand and a draft of the story under his head.

Worried about Fakir, Ahiru hopped off the bed, carrying the blanket with her in her beak. What has he been up to all this time? She carefully draped the blanket over his shoulders as best she could. She looked at the book that sat next to Fakir on the desk. The Prince and the Raven. Most people don't realize it, but it's more than just a story. Mytho… no, Prince Siegfried. My love for you is what allowed me to become Princess Tutu, and live the life of a normal girl, too. So then, what is Fakir, to me?

She knew that she felt something different when she thought of the Prince and when she thought of Fakir. With the Prince came a sense of loneliness, but happiness at knowing that all had gone well. With Fakir, though, she felt a burning in her heart. A desire for something more. If what I felt for Mytho was love, then what is this feeling I have now? No… perhaps I have been mistaken all along. Mytho gave me the feeling of hope… is that not what he came to realize the heart shard I used represented? I thought it was love. Maybe at one time, it was. But now…

She looked at the sleeping Fakir again, and as gently as she could, so as not to wake him, she closed her eyes and kissed him on the forehead.

Just as she did this, a breeze blew in from the open window. Ahiru looked up, and saw that the breeze had caused the book to open, its pages fluttering wildly. For a moment, she thought she saw something come out of the book, glittering and glowing. But she suddenly felt very tired, and shook her head, telling herself that it was just dust as she fell asleep.

….

"Ahiru?"

She stirred, but her eyes didn't open. She was still tired, her sleep did not feel restful at all.

"Ahiru, you're going to want to wake up and see this for yourself!" Fakir spoke cheerfully, as Ahiru had not heard him sound in a long time.

"Why, what is it?" she asked. Her eyes opened in shock, and she covered her mouth with her hands, gasping. With hands? I have hands, not wings? "I… I'm…"

"You're human again," Fakir smiled. "It happened while we were asleep." Though I have no idea how… "All I remember is feeling something lightly tap me on the forehead… and then when I woke up, I saw you lying on the floor next to the desk."

Ahiru blushed bright red. He felt it when I kissed him? I hope he doesn't remember that that's what it was… She looked down and realized that all that covered her was the blanket she had draped around Fakir's shoulders. "Did you…"

It was Fakir's turn to blush. "I didn't look," he said quickly, turning away from Ahiru. "Idiot, who would?"

"And just who are you calling an idiot?" Ahiru called back, though secretly she was more sad than angry. Who could ever love me? After all, I'm just a duck. She ran out, still only covering herself with the blanket, leaving Fakir alone.

"Ahiru, wait! That's not what I—" he called to her, but was too late. After silently scolding himself, he resolved that staying put and sulking wasn't going to solve anything. A lot has changed since she was last a girl. The town isn't enchanted anymore; the story has gone back into the book. It will all look different to her…

Before heading out the door, Fakir rushed to his desk, suddenly filled with inspiration. Now I finally know what to write.

….

Ahiru ran as fast and as far as she could, until the pain of her bare feet, with the soft skin that she was no longer used to, became too much to bear. Looking around, she realized that she recognized nothing. She fell to her knees and let the tears flow freely.

Fakir looked all over town searching for Ahiru. Finally, at the edge of town he found her crouching down next to the pond, the only place left unchanged. He smiled. "What's wrong?"

"I'm lost," Ahiru responded, not looking up or realizing who she was speaking to. "And there's no point in me finding my way, either. I can't be loved the way that I love him…"

"Idiot," Fakir said softly. "You're not lost, I found you. And you're wrong."

"What?" Ahiru looked up at last and realized who was standing next to her. He put his hand out for her, but instead of taking it, she leaped up and into his arms. "Fakir!"

"It's all right now," Fakir smiled.

Suddenly, Ahiru looked sad once more. "Fakir… This isn't me," she sighed. "Though I had longed to be a girl, it's nothing more than a dream, pretend. I can't stay this way."

"I know," Fakir responded. "I realized that already. So I changed the story." Without explaining further, Fakir gently brought his lips closer to Ahiru's, closing his eyes as their lips finally touched.

In a flash of light, both of their forms had changed. Fakir's arms, still wrapped around Ahiru's waist, transformed into graceful long white wings, covered in the most beautiful feathers Ahiru had ever seen. She looked down at herself, and noticed that her own wings looked the same.

These aren't the wings of a duck… Ahiru wondered at herself.

No, these are the wings of a swan.

As the sun set, the pair of swans flew off together, their elegant long necks constantly craning towards each other, never stopping, forever dancing.