Ordinary

Shay Sheridan

Fandom: Princess Tutu, where a girl is a magic princess (and a duck), the hero is an emotional wreck, his best friend is a knight with writer's block, the villain is a tortured ballerina (and a raven) and everyone dances to the whim of a dead storyteller.
Written for
Yuletide 2008.

When the story ended, life continued for Fakir and Ahiru, perfectly ordinary ~ and perfectly unsatisfying.


Because it was a fairy tale, it began Once upon a time.

Unlike other fairy tales, however, it did not end with and they all lived happily after.

It's true that when all was said and done everybody lived, which in my experience is more than you can say about most fairy tales. And it's also true the heroic prince and the beautiful ballerina did live happily ever after, and flew off in their coach to start a new story on their own. But in the end, after the last tick of the clockwork plot had unwound and the ink on the final word had dried, there were two who lingered behind, story-less. And even though they were alive, I cannot tell you they were happy.

Don't misunderstand - they were not miserable. Every day in now-ordinary Kinkan Town they passed their lives peacefully, a serious young man and a simple little duck. They never caused the slightest ripple of curiosity in the lives of those around them or aroused a single suspicion they'd ever been any different than they were. But for Fakir, at least, simply living was rather a daunting task. For the first time in his life, or at least as far back as he could remember, he no longer had a purpose.

True, he had his writing, and his ballet studies, and he had Ahiru by his side. It was just that now he and Ahiru were simply...ordinary, and after having been such extraordinary creatures for so long, the ordinariness of their current lives weighed heavily on him.

Nonetheless, even if Fakir was no longer a knight, and no longer had to save Mytho from himself, he still had Ahiru to look after. Each morning he gathered crumbs from his breakfast to bring to her, arriving just in time to see her untuck her beak from her wing and splash sleepily into the slow current of the river. At the edge of the dock Fakir would crouch down to greet her with "Good morning, Ahiru," and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the water, which the little duck would eagerly gulp down. Then Ahiru would flap up onto the dock so Fakir could run his fingers through her feathers, stroking and straightening them. "I'll come back later," he'd say, before departing for school or work or whatever chores he had to do. "I'll come back and spend time with you, I promise."

And, true to his word as a former knight, he always did.

Every afternoon, mundane obligations completed, Fakir would return to sit at the end of the dock, his feet dangling in the water. Sometimes he brought a fishing pole in the hope of catching dinner, but more often than not he'd simply open his manuscript and take pen in hand while Ahiru swam in lazy circles before him. Occasionally townspeople would pass and nod, but they saw merely a serious boy writing in a big book and a small duck splashing in the water. And if anyone thought about them at all, I assure you not a single one among them thought, "Do you suppose that boy used to be a knight?" or "Wasn't that duck a dancing princess?" After all, Kinkan Town was so very ordinary and unimaginative a place that such ideas never occurred to people.

Fakir wrote many things in the big book. He wrote about talking animals and cowardly pirates and beggars who were actually spies. He penned long paragraphs about machines that told the future, and caves that burrowed right through the world and out the other side. He invented people with four eyes and horses with wings. Some of his ideas were promising, but no matter how carefully he coaxed the words onto the page, he was always dissatisfied with the result. "I don't understand," he'd grumble to Ahiru. "This story about pirates has no plot, and this one about gossiping geese has no point. If indeed I have Drosselmeyer blood in my veins, I should be able to write stories far better than these. These are just jumbles of words with no purpose."

The duck, as usual, said nothing, just cocked her head at him and quacked.

And so life continued for Fakir and Ahiru, perfectly ordinary and perfectly unsatisfying, day after day...

...after day...

...after day.

Fakir continued to study ballet, though classes were much less fraught with drama now that an ordinary instructor taught them instead of Neko-sensei. Mytho having exited the stage, Fakir was made the premier danseur of the school, but though he sailed through the air with leaps that made people catch their breath, his heart did not soar. And though he partnered any number of talented, beautiful ballerinas, it was the one partner he could never have again who haunted his thoughts.

Each time he lifted a girl by her tiny waist, or carried one on his shoulders, or danced a dreamy pas-de-deux, he found himself thinking of Ahiru. And that was the perplexing thing, you see: he did not think of dancing with Princess Tutu, whose every move was perfection, whose technique was flawless. No -- he remembered dancing with Ahiru, somewhat awkward, toes not quite pointed, arms flailing slightly, posture somewhat awry.

Fakir wrinkled his brow and fretted over this, doubting himself and wondering if somewhere along the way, perhaps while losing so much blood fighting the Raven King, he'd lost his mind as well. It made no sense to think of dancing with Ahiru instead of with Princess Tutu, or Rue, or for that matter any number of better ballerinas.

"If Ahiru were not a duck, I wouldn't be having these peculiar thoughts." Fakir stared out the window of the dance studio looking at nothing in particular. It was another absolutely ordinary day...except just now while dancing with Lilie (who had improved a bit, but not very much) he'd actually felt Ahiru ghosting in his arms, and he was quite vexed. "If Ahiru were still a girl, she'd be stepping on my toes, and bending her arms every which way, and I'd be tired of dancing with her soon enough. It's so peculiar to imagine her dancing with me! But what's the point of thinking about it, anyway? Ahiru is a duck now, and that's that."

"Quack."

Startled, he looked up. Mere inches from his nose Ahiru was perched on the window sill, her enormous eyes fixed on the scene within. "Ahiru?"

Ahiru blinked back at him a few times, then hopped off the sill and waddled away toward the path that led to the water. Fakir watched her go. "How strange. I wonder...whatever did she want?"

Ah, that was a tricky question, because having returned to her original self, the plucky duck could no longer communicate her thoughts. Oh, it wasn't as if Fakir hadn't tried to have a conversation with her, but every time he attempted to do so he was left feeling slightly absurd.

Once class concluded, he took his manuscript and his pen and hurried to the pond, where Ahiru was sunning herself. "Look here, Ahiru," Fakir began matter-of-factly, sitting down so he could stare deeply into her eyes and search for any sign of understanding. "Why did you come to the classroom today?"

"Quack?" Ahiru replied, cocking her head like a spaniel.

"Did you want something?"

"Quack?"

"Ahiru, did you come to watch the dancing?" With a stab of guilt he remembered their watery pas-de-deux beneath the Lake of Despair, when he'd said to her when you become a duck you'll never be able to study ballet again. He'd meant it as a show of understanding, but how harsh that must have sounded! What if... Fakir caught his breath. Why, surely that must be it! He was having these thoughts about dancing with Ahiru not because he actually missed dancing with her, but because he instinctively knew what she wanted despite her lack of words! Of course! "Ahiru...it's true, isn't it? You wish you could study ballet."

"Qua-quack?"

"You'd like to continue dancing, wouldn't you?"

"Quaaaa?"

"Dancing. Ballet," he said, enunciating clearly and raising his voice as if she were deaf. "You. Me. Ballet. Study. You -- wish?" Fakir stopped short and flushed with mortification. "Sorry. Sorry. I mean, do you wish--"

Ahiru jumped off the dock, splashing water everywhere. "Quack!"

"Oh, this is hopeless." With a sigh of frustration Fakir batted water droplets from his trousers and sat down on the bench, pulling the book onto his lap. "You'll never be able to tell me your wishes. For all I know you don't remember being a girl at all. And as for me, I'm probably just the nice fellow who brings you breakfast."

"Qu-waaack!"

With a sigh he sank back against the bench. This was utterly pointless. Clearly it was going to be another ordinary, highly unsatisfying day, because if Ahiru really did wish she could study ballet, then she was fated to be disappointed, and he was fated to be tortured by his maddening imagination.

But wait...his imagination...imagining -- perhaps there was some way to fix things, to change the ending of Ahiru's story so she could be happy. Of course! "What an idiot I've been!" he cried, slapping himself on the forehead in a highly dramatic manner. "I thought the story was over! I couldn't find the words to create new stories that were any good because the old story isn't over yet. I must finish this one first, and it won't be done until Ahiru gets a happy ending!"

He picked up the pen, hand shaking just a little. He stared for a moment at the scar where he'd stabbed himself to stop Mytho's tragedy from reaching its inevitable conclusion. He'd stopped the magic, then; would there be any left for Ahiru now?

Fakir took a breath, and began to write:

The heroic prince and the beautiful dancer did live happily ever after, and flew off in their coach to start a new story of their own, but there were two who lingered behind, story-less. And even though they were alive, I cannot tell you they were happy.

"Well, that's depressing," he muttered, scratching it out. "I'll start over."

He gripped the pen tighter and began anew:

The heroic prince and the beautiful dancer did live happily ever after, and flew off in their coach to start a new story of their own, but there were two who lingered behind, story-less. And even though they were alive, I cannot tell you they were happy. After the hero and heroine departed, Princess Tutu returned to her form as a duck, and the knight became just an ordinary boy. Ugh -- how he hated that word "ordinary!" But the boy who had been a knight knew that the duck Ahiru still wanted to study ballet, and he still had the power to change the ending of her story, so he sat down on a wooden bench at the edge of the water, picked up his pen, opened the book, and began to write: "The heroic prince and the beautiful dancer did live happily ever after, and flew off in their coach to start a new story of their own, but there were two who lingered--

Oh, dear -- his words were going in circles. At this rate he'd never get anywhere. He wrinkled his brow and chewed on the pen. Perhaps if he ignored the details and just got on with the important bits--

Forcing his hand to obey, Fakir wrote:

Suddenly Ahiru found herself turned back into a ballerina.

There was a loud splash before him and Fakir held his breath before slowly peering over the top of the book. Was it possible...?

"Quack!" Ahiru poked her head up out of the water, a clump of vegetation in her beak. "Qua-quack!"

Fakir released his breath and frowned. Apparently it was not that easy to change an ending. Perhaps if he tried again, more emphatically:

SUDDENLY AHIRU FOUND HERSELF TURNED BACK INTO A BALLERINA.

"Quack!"

Fakir ground his teeth in frustration. A sudden wind blew off the water and tickled his bare feet, making him shiver. Ah, well, it was getting on toward evening anyway, and he had chores to do. He closed the book and stood. "I'm sorry, Ahiru," he said. "I must go for now. But I'll return tomorrow, I promise."

Ahiru said nothing. She was too busy chewing on a plant.

That night before he went to bed Fakir reviewed what he'd written and crossed out all the words with heavy strokes. Ridiculous. What had he been thinking? Even if he had the blood of a master storyteller running through his veins, it was obvious he himself had no talent for putting words together and no magic at all with which to infuse them.

As he fell into a restless sleep, Fakir dreamed, as he so often did, that he was dancing. In his dream he had the ability to leap as high as the rooftops, to spin hundreds of times without losing his balance, and to partner an entire corps de ballet without tiring, but despite this, his dancing was strangely unsatisfying. He leapt and spun and partnered magnificently, but as he reached out to the last of a score of ballerinas he found Princess Tutu standing before him in perfect fifth position.

Tutu! You've come back! Dream-Fakir gasped. He gestured to her in invitation. Come. Let us dance.

But Dream-Tutu shook her head and gestured elegantly her refusal. You are not ready to dance, Fakir, she whispered, and until you are, Ahiru's story will never be concluded.

That's not true! protested Dream-Fakir. "I'm a very good dancer! And besides, what has one thing to do with the other? Princess Tutu, why--

But Princess Tutu was gone, and Fakir awoke, confused and strangely upset. He did not sleep another wink that night.

The next day Fakir dragged himself from his bed down to the water with Ahiru's breadcrumbs and then slouched off to class. "What did she mean? I can dance -- I dance very well. And if Ahiru's story has no ending it's because I haven't written it yet." He was exhausted by the time he reached the school, and groaned inwardly to find himself partnered with Pique, who fluttered with nerves whenever he came near. It would not be an easy lesson.

How correct he was. "I'm so sorry, Fakir!" Pique squealed as she stepped on his foot. "Oh, please excuse me!" she moaned as her loose hand hit him in the face. "Oh, I'm so terribly heavy!" she cried, as she overbalanced and the two of them went crashing to the ground.

"It was my fault," Fakir murmured gallantly. Truth be told, it was his fault. He should have corrected her errors through his own skill and made Pique look a far better dancer than she was, but he'd been distracted by the echo of Princess Tutu's words and by the phantom presence of Ahiru in his arms.

Wait -- phantom? No, no! That made Ahiru sound like a ghost, and Ahiru was quite alive, albeit living as a duck instead of a girl, never mind a princess--

Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That was it. That was where he'd made his mistake: his imagination hadn't been big enough! Newly invigorated, Fakir made his excuses to the instructor, grabbed his manuscript book and ran from the classroom, not even bothering to change out of his tights. A few people noticed him pelting down the path toward the river and shook their heads. "These young people," one said, "they're always in such a rush."

Fakir reached the river and knelt, panting, at the edge of the water. "Ahiru, are you here?"

"Quack!" Well, of course she was at the river -- where else did Ahiru go? She hopped up onto the dock and nuzzled his hand. "Qua-wack?"

"No, I don't have crumbs for you, but I need to ask you something. It's not just that you wish you could study ballet, is it?"

"Quack!" She nosed her beak into his hand again.

"Stop that. Pay attention. Forget about dancing; if you could be anything, what would you choose to be?"

"Qua-qua-ack!"

"Concentrate, Ahiru! Do you wish--" But here he stopped, because Ahiru had turned her back on him and was worrying a stalk of reed. "Well, never mind. I'm sure you'd say yes, if you could. I know exactly what you'd wish for."

He opened the book and picked up the pen. Yesterday he'd made a mistake with his words, writing Suddenly Ahiru found herself turned into a ballerina, when clearly what Ahiru wanted was much, much more. "She can dance all she wants once she's changed," he declared, nodding to himself. "I should have realized that immediately."

Fakir turned to a blank page, took a last glance at Ahiru in her current form, and wrote:

Ahiru felt her webbed feet become legs and her feathers grow into flesh. Suddenly she was transformed, not just into a ballerina, but a magical, royal ballerina. In that one moment Ahiru the duck ceased to exist, and in her place stood -- Princess Tutu!

There. He'd done it, surely. He looked up slowly from the words he'd penned.

There on the dock in the place of Ahiru the duck stood--

Ahiru. Still a duck.

"Quack?"

Fakir dropped his head into his hands. The ink staining his fingers streaked his face, but he didn't care. "I've failed," he despaired. "I've failed you again, Ahiru."

Ahiru padded towards him and rested her beak on his knee. "Quack," she said softly. "Quack-quack-quack."

Fakir stood. He was filled with a deep melancholy. "I don't know what to do, Ahiru," he said. "I don't know how to fix this." He held the book away from him as if it were crawling with vermin; for a moment he considered hurling it into the water. "This is useless. I'm useless."

Ahiru answered with a noise that sounded rather like a sigh.

Fakir was determined, and he was conscientious...but it also could be said he had a tendency to obsess. So when he returned to his room he opened the book again to examine what he'd written, and went over each word with painstaking care, trying to imagine where he'd gone wrong. Long into the night he perused the words until the stub of candle on his desk burned out, at which point he fell into bed, still in his tights. Even then he didn't fall asleep immediately. "Whatever am I to do?" he asked the darkness. "How ever will I find the words to end Ahiru's story? And even if I do find them, why should I even suppose the magic will work?" And thus he despaired, until exhaustion took hold and he fell asleep.

Once again he dreamed he was dancing. This time, however, he danced faster than he ever had before, with more grace and skill, leaping higher and higher until he was quite exhausted. But when it came time for the pas-de-deux, there were hundreds and hundreds of ballerinas to choose from, each identically dressed, each with her face turned away.

Are you my partner? Dream-Fakir asked, as one bent low in an arabesque and then danced away. What about you? Or you? he asked, as one by one they jeted, or pirouetted past or glided by in pas de bourree. But though each was willing to take his hand, they all hid their faces from him. Is it you? Is it you? Show me your face! With mounting frustration he turned from one to the other, dancing ever faster and more feverishly, trying futilely to see their faces, until at last he reached out to the final dancer and found Princess Tutu at the end of his arm. Princess Tutu! You must help me. They won't show me their faces, and if I can't see their faces I cannot find my partner!"

Dream-Tutu raised en pointe and danced in a circle around him. It is because you still are not ready to dance, Fakir.

You said that last time,he protested vehemently, and even now I don't know what it means! Of course I'm ready to dance! I really am!

Dream-Tutu shook her head. You are not. And until you are, your story will have no ending.

I am, and -- Wait! Did you say 'my' story? I thought you said Ahiru's--

But without another word Princess Tutu faded into a sparkling mist, and Fakir awoke amidst tangled linens, his clothing soaked with sweat, feeling even more perturbed than he had the night before. As the first weak rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon, he reflected morosely that at least life was no longer ordinary; now it was simply unendurable. And as for him, he could no longer claim even to be ordinary -- hah! He laughed bitterly. Now he was the most spectacular failure Kinkan Town had ever known.

Still, he was conscientious, and he had his responsibilities, and he forced himself from his bed, took his uneaten breakfast and traipsed down to the river. This morning it seemed to Fakir that though Ahiru was still an ordinary duck, she was more than unusually subdued, as if she, too, sensed the pall of failure that enveloped him. The day itself promised to be lovely, with warm breezes and radiant sunshine, but that only made Fakir feel more depressed. He scattered the crumbs, too tired even to say "Good morning," and then dragged himself to school, where the instructor took one look at him and told him to sit out the class.

Both relieved and alarmed -- for, after all, hadn't Princess Tutu told him he was not ready to dance? -- Fakir slumped against the wall as the other students began their practice. The girls at the barre cast fleeting glances at him out of the corners of their eyes, but the sight of so many ballerinas reminded him of his awful dream. Besides, even if he wasn't dancing, each bent wrist, each tentatively-pointed toe conjured up memories of Ahiru. How fragile she'd seemed, despite her pluck, how adorably awkward -- Fakir squeezed his eyes shut until he saw nothing but sparkles.

There were several young male dancers in the class, too, a few almost good enough to challenge him for premier danseur, but today Fakir couldn't have cared less. However, one particularly talented boy had shaggy blond hair and an ethereal grace, and Fakir found himself reminded of Mytho. Now Mytho -- he had been the most consummate of dancers, the greatest of partners for any girl with whom he danced. No wonder Ahiru had been drawn to Mytho, and compelled to help him. No wonder she'd been tongue-tied whenever she danced with Mytho. No wonder she'd looked at Mytho with such--

"Mytho!" Fakir startled so violently he banged his head on the wall, with such a loud crack the instructor dropped his stick, the girls went flat-footed and the boys dropped their partners. But Fakir did not notice. "That's it!" he cried, jumping up. Everyone looked at him warily, some with concern and some in frank alarm. "I know, without doubt, what she's been waiting for, but ah, poor Ahiru!" Without even a word of excuse he bolted from the class so fast he forgot his book, so fast his ballet shoes flew off his feet and blew away on the wind.

"Ahiru?" whispered Lilie to Pique as the whirlwind dwindled, "who's that?"

"I don't know," shrugged Pique. "And who's Mytho?"

"Ahiru! Ahiru!" Fakir took a shortcut, running through the school's manicured lawn, clearing a statue with a graceful leap and nearly trampling a large gray tomcat leading a litter of kittens. "Out of my way!" The cat yowled an angry reply but Fakir ran on. He dodged between two trees, jumped a fence and barely avoided a woman with a pram who shrieked as she pulled her child to safety. "Ahiru!" he called again, though she could not possibly have heard him from so far away.

And then he vaulted a stone wall and stampeded through a vegetable garden and saw the water glittering before him. "Ahiru!"

Ahiru was waiting for him on the dock, her eyes wide open. "Quack?"

Fakir slid to a stop and fell to his knees, taking several heaving breaths. "I'm sorry I'm so thick, Ahiru. I didn't understand before. I quite missed the entire point, didn't I?"

"Qua-qua?"

"Yes, I did. It's not that you want to be Princess Tutu again, and it's not just that you want to be a girl, is it? You want something more."

"Quack."

"Yes, more. It's that--" and here Fakir had to pause for a moment because for some reason he was stuttering "--well, it's, it's that you... you miss Mytho, don't you?"

"Qua."

"You wish he were here."

"Quaaa?"

"Do you wish he were here... instead of me?" Fakir stopped short, his face reddening. He absolutely hadn't meant to say that -- in fact he had no idea where those words had come from.

"Quaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa," Ahiru answered, narrowing her eyes at him. "Quack quack. Quackquackquackquackquack!!!" She flapped her wings emphatically until feathers flew everywhere, and hopped up and down frenetically from one webbed foot to another. "Quaaaaaaack!!"

It almost seemed as if she were angry at him, but that couldn't be the case. "I'm sorry, Ahiru." Fakir looked at his hands, because he could not look the little duck in the face. "I'm afraid I can't write that ending for you. I'm so sorry. I truly am, because more than anything I wanted you to be happy. I wanted to write you a happy ending, give you what you wanted. But that...that's the one thing I can't do."

"Quaaaaa!" Ahiru flapped and hopped, and poked him with her beak.

"Ow. I know you're upset, but I can't bring Mytho back for you. I can't. I...won't." Fakir reached down and picked up Ahiru and held her to his breast. "Mytho deserves his own ending after all the horrible things he's had to endure, and he chose Rue to be his princess. I know that makes you sad--"

"QUAAAAAACK!" Poke, poke, poke went Ahiru's beak. "QUAAAACK!"

"Ouch. Ow! Please try to calm down. Ahiru, even if I knew how to make Mytho return, I wouldn't write that ending. You might be happy, but I--" Fakir stopped abruptly. His throat felt very tight, as if there were a giant lump inside. His eyes burned, too, as if they were about to water. "I...I..." He swallowed, but the lump remained. "What I mean to say is--"

Ahiru stopped poking and quacking and went very still. She was looking intently at him now, her eyes boring into his. How strange...it was as if she were encouraging him, I'm listening, Fakir, go on.

And so he did. Words started to pour from Fakir's mouth, but he could not have identified their source, because unlike all the words he'd written in the big book, he hadn't thought these out at all. They tumbled out one after another, falling over each other in a rush. "Even if I could work the magic and bring Mytho to you, and even if you lived happily ever after, don't you see, I wouldn't be happy." He caught a breath and tried to stop but the words continued of their own volition. "I know I swore to stay by your side even if you stayed a duck, but I miss you so terribly, Ahiru, I miss you. I miss hearing your voice, I miss how you trip over your own words, and how you turn all pink when you say something wrong. I miss dancing with you - how you fall off pointe and wave your hands around and say 'oh dear' when you make a mistake. I even miss you stepping on my feet. I miss how shy you are. I miss how strong you are underneath the shyness. I miss having you by my side as I walk through town. Ahiru, if you remain a duck forever, I swear I'll still stay with you, and come down here every day and bring you breakfast and just sit here by the water all day, if you like. But if you were to become a girl and go off with Mytho, or anyone else, for that matter, I just -- I just -- " Fakir faltered. "I know I'm being selfish, but if that happened, I don't know what I'd do. I couldn't go on, day after day. I couldn't stand anyone else being with you instead of me."

"Quack?"

"Why? Why do you think? Because I care about you, Ahiru. I...I..." Fakir's breath hitched, the words catching in his throat. He put Ahiru down and turned away to hide his burning face, but the words continued to spill out. "I...I care -- I suppose I even -- that is, I love you, Ahiru, and I couldn't bear to see-- "

"What?"

"I said I love you, Ahiru. I'm sorry if you don't feel that way, if you love Mytho instead, but-- "

"You love me, Fakir?"

"Didn't I just say so? Honestly, Ahiru, trying to have a conversation with you is so..." Fakir blinked. Wait. Stop. A shiver ran through him. A conversation? Fakir shut his eyes tight. "Ahiru?"

"Yes, Fakir?"

"Are you...are you still a duck?"

"No, Fakir."

He was not going to look. He was not, because if he looked it wouldn't be true, it couldn't possibly be true. But Fakir's feet had other ideas, and started to turn him around.

"Don't look!" Ahiru shrieked. "I haven't any clothes on!"

"Sorry, sorry! Here, here, take this." Fakir pulled off his coat and thrust it behind him. "For heaven's sake. Put this on."

"Thank you, Fakir." He heard a rustle that might have been the sound of feathers being ruffled. And then, finally -- "You may turn around now."

And slowly, ever so slowly, he did.

And there was Ahiru, red-haired, freckled Ahiru, barely-up-to-his-collar-bone Ahiru, dripping with water, wrapped in the coat which hung down to her knees, with bare feet that weren't webbed at all.

"Ahiru," Fakir said, barely daring to hope, "say 'quack.'"

"Why? Oh..." Ahiru cleared her throat. "Quack."

They both waited. Nothing happened.

"You're still a girl! You didn't change back! ...what...why, how?" He gaped at her. "How did it happen?"

"I think," Ahiru answered in the funny, dear voice he remembered, "that you did it, Fakir. Or maybe we did it together. I don't know." She shrugged, awkwardly charming, and Fakir's heart beat a little faster. "But you wrote the ending after all."

"But...I didn't!"

"Certainly you did."

"But...the words I wrote in the book didn't work."

"Because you didn't use the right words, Fakir. They didn't mean anything to me." A pink flush colored her freckled face all the way up to the tips of her ears. "I was waiting for the right ones."

And Fakir understood, finally, that there can be magic in words, even those you don't write down. "You were waiting for me, Ahiru? Does that mean..." He let out a long breath. "Oh! I see! That must mean our stories are connected. It is not just your ending, or my ending. It's both."

"Fakir," Ahiru said, and her voice was much less hesitant and far more confident than he'd heard before, "please pardon me for saying this, but though you are a very good dancer, and a fine writer, and an honorable knight, you are not very intelligent at all. There never were two stories, only the one."

Fakir stared at her in wonder. "One story. Our story, Ahiru." He stepped closer and pulled his jacket more tightly around her slender body, and then slipped his arm around her for good measure. "So then...you did understand me, when you were a duck."

"Of course." Ahiru smiled. "Always."

"Good." He felt quite relieved. "I was beginning to feel like an idiot."

Ahiru laughed softly and nestled into his shoulder in a very duckling-like fashion. "So," she sighed, "I suppose this is finally the end, then."

"Not at all." Fakir stepped back and bowed, and offered his hand in a graceful gesture. "May I have this dance?"

"Yes, Fakir." Ahiru took his hand. "But please don't say I step on your feet, because I never have."

Fakir wisely held his tongue, and bowed again, and Ahiru curtseyed, and even though there was no music but the sound of wind and water, they began to dance right there on the riverbank. And the townspeople who passed saw a smiling boy and a barefoot girl in an oversized coat dancing together, and said to themselves, What an unusual sight! How very extraordinary!

And though I cannot tell you for certain they lived happily ever after, I do know this: it's very likely they are dancing still.


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