The Heart Within
Chapter Twelve: And in Return...
A/N: I'm baaaack! Before we recommence, I want to point out that I've slightly revised some of Chapter 4, "Broken Promises" (including some additions to dialogue, reordering of events, etc.) It is not imperative that any of you go back and read it again, but it may yield some more insight into this mysterious "voice" character, if you feel inclined to delve deeper. :) In reading that chapter, I also find myself humorously reminded of The Godfather, which I saw long after I had written that chapter: "Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me…"
Of course, this note can only mean one thing: Mr. What-Fine-Print-Are-You-Talking-About-I'm-Just-A-D isembodied-Voice is back!
Disclaimer: Princess Tutu is not mine.
Every evening, she would lie back and gaze at the ceiling, the moonlight slanting through her curtains and sliding across the bed. Before long, the sensation of the pillow beneath her head and the quilted blankets brushing against her cheeks would fade into a memory and then into a thought, and then would be forgotten as the warmth rose up out of her body and made her weightless. It would be then, in the moment before her eyes drifted completely closed, that tiny sparks would flicker at the corner of her vision like stars, signaling the coming of a dream.
A dazzling blue sky soared overhead, just visible through a ring of wavering flowers that towered about her head. The blueness expanded and bloomed before her as she sat up and looked around. Undulating in the breeze, blue and pink and red and yellow and orange flowers danced weightlessly around her, stretching out over gently sloping hills as far as she could see. The sight seemed so fresh and new… and yet, why did she feel that she'd been here before? Feeling some kind of energy on the wind, she stood and raised her hands, inviting the flowers around her into a dance. As she drifted from one movement to another, the sky before her seemed to ripple and waver like the surface of a pond. Something about it caught at her memory again and almost made her stop, but she dismissed it and continued to dance.
Then, one arm upraised, she paused happily in her dance, the other arm extended toward the empty space before her. As if on cue, he emerged through the rippling air, his deep green eyes softening as he caught sight of her. She realized then that her outstretched hand must be meant for him. He moved toward her, taking her hand in his, his other hand catching her about her waist. He spun her in his arms before gently guiding her into an arabesque. She turned her head feelingly as she flowed into the movement and found herself caught in his gaze. The wind pulled strands of his dark hair from its tie and cast them wildly about his face, but could not obscure the warmth of his expression. Unable to look away, she couldn't help but smile. The feel of his hand encircling her own, and the closeness of his face close to hers sent a thrill down her spine. Their movements were all a part of the dance, but somehow they seemed separate as well; private. Apprehensively, she reached out to touch his face, unsure of whether his gaze now was a part of the dance or meant just for her. At the way his eyes flickered as her hand brushed his cheek, she shivered, lowering herself from the arabesque. He did not look away, so neither did she, although her heart thrilled in her chest. He was so close, and smiling so happily at her, his hands still warm on her waist. Surely that had to be real. Shyly, she brought her other hand up to mirror the first, cupping his face tenderly against her palms and fingertips. Then, still gazing into his green eyes, she raised herself onto her toes and he responded, clasping her gently to him, bending to meet her...
Then suddenly, he was gone. The air hummed and wavered where he had abruptly disappeared. Beneath her feet, the flowers shrilled and wilted, falling away from her in a devastated circle. She would have gasped, but no air seemed to come to her lips. The ground was falling away, melting beneath her feet like paint being washed from a canvas. The sweet air floating about her rushed past her face, disappearing into a dark abyss below which deepened into the yawning maw of something monstrous. She tried to run or scream, but she was frozen in place, her hands extended holding something precious that was no longer there. With nothing to hold her anymore, She plummeted into the darkness, the air rushing past so quickly that is was difficult to draw breath. She couldn't move or scream, but tears spilled from the corners of her eyes and were lifted from her cheeks into the air as she fell. Somehow, she felt certain that she'd never hold his face in her hands again.
Although she didn't notice immediately, her fall slowed until it felt as if she might merely be sinking through water. She remained entangled in her grief until she settled suddenly upon a cold surface, finally released from her position. From the slight tang in the air, she instinctively gathered that this surface was made of metal. She shivered as she pushed herself to her feet and looked around anxiously.
Her memory called out to her again; this was the darkness she always returned to in her dreams, the place where she had sunk beneath crushing waters that forced the weight of her despair upon her until she thought she would die. Like a stage after a performance, however, it felt empty now, and yet retained traces of the feelings that came before the silence. She shivered again, still searching for a way out, or in, or away from this place, the memory of despair seeping into her stomach like icy lead.
From overhead came a sudden crack and bang that sized her heart in her chest. Crying out, she shielded herself with her hands, hunching in upon herself. After a moment, when it became evident that nothing was about to fall and crush her, she opened her eyes, only to close them quickly again against a blinding light. Now covering her eyes, she slowly cracked them open until they adjusted. A strong light shone from overhead, casting her in a brilliant circle. Something about this seemed so familiar…
"Ah… Perhaps this was a well-timed visit." A voice rang out in the darkness, completing the cycle of remembrance. She knew now, standing in the light that pinned her within the dark space, she remembered why it all seemed so familiar.
"You…" she whispered, breath gone from her lungs.
"Me." The voice responded sardonically. After a pause, the voice seemed to smirk. At least, if a voice could smirk, this one was certainly doing so.
"It seems that you've been thoroughly enjoying the effects of my benevolence," the voice remarked quietly, and she felt a wave of guilt wash through her at her less than grateful acknowledgement of the voice's return.
"Yes! Thank you so much for helping me. It's been wonderful, being able to talk to everyone again and to dance again and…"
"-To be with him again?" the voice ventured, sounding as if it contained a smile.
She stopped abruptly and to her surprise, felt a warm blush rising in her cheeks.
"Ah," the voice said knowingly.
She looked down at her feet, embarrassed, before she looked up and out into the darkness again. "He has been wonderful. A lot of the time he seems grumpy and he teases me a lot…" she glowered briefly, remembering some slight, "but then…" and her expression softened.
"Yes?" the voice encouraged.
She hesitated and then looked down with a secret smile. "There are times when he just talks to me. At those times, he becomes more… real. He's kind to me, and I remember that he's a nice person, even underneath his grumpy act. When he talks about his dreams and all the things he wants to do someday. He gets this look in his eyes…" she laughed a little under her breath, her heart fluttering and stopped to think of a way to describe the image in her head. "Sometimes he gets this look in his eyes, like he's so happy… he's so happy that he could… It makes me want to-" she stopped abruptly and gave a nervous laugh. "I don't know what I'm saying. I just think it's nice that I can respond to him now when he talks to me."
There was a long pause, after which the voice sighed. "So, is it worth it?" It asked after a while.
She furrowed her brows in confusion. "Is what worth it?"
The voice softly intoned, "Is it worth it for you, being human?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, feeling something like dread seeping into her stomach, sensing thoughts rising into her mind that she thought she had pushed so far back that she would forget them. "Of course it's worth it," she said with a light laugh, but it came out weakly. Something about the question struck a discordant note in her mind, stirring confusing thoughts she may have pushed aside some time ago and forgotten.
The voice sighed again. "It's true that you may do more as a human than as a duck. In his lifetime, a single human may grow, meet thousands of people, learn from them, influence them, see the world, and leave his mark upon it with as little as a mere collection of his worldly observations." The voice paused and then took on a strangely quiet tone. "However, this strength in humankind is also its fault. Humans come to believe that they must serve a purpose, that they must leave their mark upon the world. As such, their lives will always change, and none of them may know exactly what to expect."
In her spotlight, she leaned forward to hear the voice better, although it came from no particular direction.
"Ahiru," the voice spoke louder, suddenly, as if rising from a reverie, "Are you prepared to live the inconstant life of a human? To never know if you will succeed in any endeavors; to never know when you will die; to live on even if those you love may leave you?"
She froze in place at the last words, contemplating their meaning. Could I be happy as a human if I lost everyone? Rue, Mytho, Pique… Fakir? Could my life still be meaningful?
Something like white hot panic stirred in her stomach at that thought and for a moment she remembered the feeling of ultimate loss as she fell endlessly into the black abyss, alone as the world rushed past. The words wouldn't come to her lips; the ones she knew she should say and the ones she wanted so badly to feel. Finally, she murmured hoarsely, "I… don't know."
The voice made a small noise, although whether it was one of approval or disapproval she could not tell. After a moment, it spoke. "Think about this more in the time to come. You will, of course, remember that you owe me a service in return for your granted wish. If you do not wish to keep this shape, you will be released from your debt to me, but I warn you that your life may not return to the way it was. If you do wish to keep this shape, be prepared to fulfill your promise. Should you decide that this responsibility is too much, however, be prepared to relinquish your human form."
She shivered, becoming acutely aware of how much she had been taking her human form for granted.
Her voice cracking with timidity, she asked, "What is it that you want me to do to fulfill my promise?"
The voice said nothing for several moments as if considering her question, or perhaps thinking of how to put a delicate request. In the silence, she heard her own heart beating rapidly within her chest; what if the voice asked her to perform a service that she simply couldn't fulfill? What then?
The voice made a noise as if clearing its throat. The sound successfully pulled her attention from her apprehension back to the itself and she waited, rapt with attention.
"What will I ask you to do is for the good of others within your town," the voice began, and those words chilled her with the promise of great importance. "I have been sensing a new presence in Kinkan for some time. It has grown enough to influence the the people of Kinkan Town, and I suspect that it will awaken very soon. Once it does, it will begin to change your world, little by little." The voice spoke plainly, but the ominous tone of its words was unmistakable. "To fulfill your promise to me, you must find the source of these changes and stop them before Kinkan town begins to truly suffer."
She felt very small as those last words reached her ears. "Kinkan town… something in Kinkan town is going to make everyone suffer?"
"Someone," the voice corrected. "This presence would have to be amongst the people of Kinkan to influence them."
She felt even smaller as she began to realize the enormity of the task before her. She would have to find a malicious presence dwelling innocuously among the inhabitants of Kinkan town, pick this person out of the inhabitants and somehow stop this person from harming Kinkan's people.
A lump forming in her throat, the word, "How?" began to rise incredulously to her lips, but the voice seemed to anticipate her feelings and spoke first.
"This task may not be as difficult as you believe. I have given it to you because I sense that you, above all others, will be able to do it."
Words finally burst from her lips, frightened and overwhelmed. "What makes you think I'll be able to do it, let alone 'above all others'?"
The voice chuckled. "This is a task for someone who genuinely cares about the town. I sense that you will be able to do this because you care more than most, even for those who you do not know. That kind of strength is rare."
Further words died in her throat. She found it difficult to believe that her concern for Kinkan's residents alone would be enough for her to accomplish this task, but she had already made her promise to the voice to do what it asked and it seemed to have faith that she would succeed.
At her extended silence, the voice became reassuring. "Do not be afraid. You have asked something from me, and now I must ask something of you in return. These are merely the laws by which my powers are constrained. I am certain you will be able to comply. However, I should remind you, not to become too… attached," the voice paused as if handling a delicate matter, "to anything, should you ultimately find yourself unprepared to fulfill your promise."
Clutching her arms although the air did not feel cold, she looked at her feet as yet more worrying thoughts sank into her mind.
Deep green eyes swam in her mind and she closed her eyes, suddenly pained by their warmth. Yes, she had entered into an agreement that she had to fulfill. She would do her best, but if she was unable to fulfill it… she would have to let him go. When she had been a duck, his understanding of her only lasted as long as his memory of her human self did. If she were to become a duck again, that memory would fade again, and when it did, she would have to leave him. She knew well that he would honor his promise to stay with her; he would never allow himself to move on as long as he honored this obligation to her.
She sighed, and realized how simple her dilemma truly was. Protect Kinkan from the presence, and she would be able to stay with him as long as they each desired; fail to do so, and she would lose him forever. In the end, it was all for him, the one with the green eyes that seemed to shine for her alone. She laughed lightly at herself, also realizing that it had taken until now for her to realize the true reason that she had made the bargain all along.
The voice chuckled. "It seems you will need some time to think about your situation. I will return to you again. Until then, remember me."
The light overhead dimmed, suggesting that their exchange was over. Just before the lights dimmed, she thought she heard the voice whisper, "Good luck."
Then she was alone with the darkness again.
At the end, the only thing remaining was the question:
So, is it worth it?
A/N: So, it's been a while… again.
I've resigned myself to the fact that I constantly overbook myself and as such will only be able to finish this story in pieces at a time. To those of you who have stuck with me for this long, thank you so much! Your support means so much to me. As for those of you who have discovered this story recently, a big thanks to you too. Every one of you helps me to stay motivated and remember why I love this fandom so much. :D Please remember that this story means a lot to me and I've been planning it for years now, and I don't intend to leave it unfinished. Someday, hopefully soon, it will reach completion.
Anyhow, I haven't been completely idle these past few months. As always, I've been writing and revising the story line to bring together the beginning and the end and it's starting to really come together, although it's always surprising how holes open up just when the story was beginning to look complete. At any rate, please enjoy, review, and keep reading!