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“Fakir?”

He looks up, painfully – most of his motions right now are painful – and realizes that Princess Tutu has become Duck again, quietly and without fuss.  It must have happened just after Mytho fell asleep.  He wonders if she’s even noticed the transition. 

“I’m sorry,” she says, small and subdued.  Her eyes are fixed on the bandage she’s re-wrapping.   Fakir can barely feel the pressure of her hands over the generalized ache; his body, with all its raven-inflicted injuries, seems to belong to somebody else.  He’d protest her ministrations, but he doesn’t have the energy.   Moreover – he’s tired enough to admit to himself, if not to her – he’s not entirely sure he really could do it himself just at present.   "You got hurt so bad, and we spent all that time dancing . . ."

“Idiot,” Fakir rasps out.  “Edel wanted to see you dance.  Besides, that’s how the story goes.” 

“Yeah, but . . .”   Duck’s chin starts to stick out in a way that indicates that she’s resolutely keeping it from wobbling.  Her voice is wobbly too.  “It’s . . . you should have gotten to dance too, Fakir!  Miss Edel should have gotten to see you dance too, before . . .” 

Fakir pushes himself up on one elbow so that he can look her straight in the face, almost dislodging the bandages.  “Don’t talk nonsense,” he says, harsher than he means.   The knight’s only dance is the dance of battle, his only partner his enemies.  They all know what their roles are.  “What makes you think I would have wanted to dance with you anyway?”

Duck’s chin firms, and she jerks her head up to glare at him.  Her long braid dangles dangerously close to the bandages, nearly tangling.  “Th-that’s not the point!  I don’t care if you want to dance with me or not.  But you’re part of the happy ending, too!”

Her voice is loud.  Mytho appears undisturbed, silvery and still in the next bed over, only his chest rising and falling just slightly with the motion of his breath.  “Quiet,” Fakir says anyway, stern.  “You’ll wake him up.”  

Duck jumps, and mutters, “Sorry.”   Then adds, a beat later, in a hissing stage whisper, “But it’s true.

"You don't know anything about the way these stories work," Fakir tells her.  He feels suddenly, enormously, unexpectedly fond of her.   Maybe it’s just the aftereffects of being alive long past when he’d ever thought he would be; he feels more endeared towards the world in general than he has since he was a child.   It probably won’t last.  Tomorrow the world will probably go back to being one long, infuriating obstacle course, just a series of obstructions to Mytho’s health and happiness.

But tonight the world is a place where happy endings can happen, and the cost isn’t as high as you’d think.  He reaches one arm up – it stretches all his wounds, it hurts, but he’s alive to feel it – intending to ruffle the ridiculous red fluff of her bangs, but the motion turns out to be too much effort and instead his hand just thumps on top of her head and stays there.  The texture of her hair is surprisingly unlike feathers.   He feels her jerk in surprise and lets his hand slide off her head, and his arm drop back down, and then the rest of him, his back collapsing flat against the bed once more. 

"Go home," he says, to the ceiling. "The prince and princess got their dance.  That’s good enough, isn’t it?  Go home.

“Are you sure you’re gonna be o-”

“I’ll be better if I get some sleep, which I can’t do if you’re hanging around being a nuisance.” 

Duck makes one last twitch at the bandages – probably just to prove a point – and then starts to make her way across the room.  Fakir turns his head to watch her go, hoping she doesn’t trip over the bedstead and go flying.  Mytho will probably wake up just to catch her, and Mytho needs sleep – real sleep, not enchanted heartless Kraehe-induced immobility – more than either of them. 

When she reaches the door, Duck turns around and aims an intense frown at him.  “When you’re better,” she says, like a threat, “I really want to see you dance.  Not like when we danced to Sleeping Beauty and you were a jerk.  But for real, like you’re happy.  Maybe you and Mytho could dance together –”

“Don’t get caught by any of the other boys when you’re leaving the dormitory,” Fakir croaks, and has the satisfaction of seeing her clap her hand over her mouth and scurry out. 

A bubble of laughter floats in his throat.  She really is an idiot.  His idiot to deal with now, he supposes – if he accepts her as Mytho’s princess, it’s his job to guard both of them, and there’s no taking that step back now – but he’ll think about all that tomorrow.  In any case, it’s a good thing he seems to be starting to find her idiocy endearing.  He flexes the hand that had caressed her hair, glances reflexively once more over at Mytho, and closes his eyes.