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[String of Stardust]


༻Chapter 10༺


     The next morning, I awake in the dry cave which had become our bed for the night. Immediately I am struck by a stabbing pain within my throat, before a strange sensation washes upon me; my body feels so frigid, scarcely able to get enough heat. Unfortunately, it appears even that rain was enough to truly make me ill… Slowly I sit up, moaning along the way, wishing I were still soundly asleep.

     “Ah, sâlêzj,” Hikaru greets, “I was beginning to wonder if you would ever wake up.”

     “What time is it?” I ask, slightly upset. I suppose this journey does not have a set duration; yet admittedly, I would prefer not to waste too much time. Yet, in the state I am in at the moment, there may not be another choice…

     “I’m not sure, I’ve been a tad busy,” he replies to me, holding up…a mortar and pestle?

     “Where…did you get that?” I ask, still in a bit of a daze.

     “My bag?”

     “I shall never understand how you fit so much in there…”

     As I say this, it seems he chuckles; yet it is so low, perhaps it is merely my mind playing tricks upon me.

     “Only everything I need.”

     “Is a hurdy gurdy truly necessary?” I retort quietly,

     “It’s nice to see you’re awake,” he says with a seemingly annoyed tone, and yet he smiles as he does so.

     Slowly I nudge my way closer to him, and as I do, I notice numerous plants scattered about everywhere.

     “What are you concocting?”

     “A tonic for you.”

     “I do not see why, I am perfectly—” Before the sentiment can even come out, however, a scratch in my throat suddenly births a rather great coughing fit.

     “I am fine,” I reply, voice now hoarse.

     “With all your sneezing and shivering last night, I figured you would not be doing too well today. Unfortunately it seems that was right.”

     “Perhaps I am a little ill, yet I shall be fine,” I say.

     Truthfully, the longer I am awake, the weaker my body feels…and yet, I wish to continue onwards. We have already become a tad behind, surely, from our foray to the bakery yesterday.

     “It won’t be too long now before I’m finished—would you still mind taking it? Just to be sure you’re well…”

     “I suppose so,” I reply, yet it does appear a tad odd that he seemingly wants me to have it so much. I do not believe he would intentionally harm me, lest he would surely have by now, yet he could perhaps not know what he is doing—

     “Hikaru,” I begin, “I know you know much about herbs and such, yet have you ever created medicine before? You know how everything reacts together?”

     “Of course…” he answers, voice trailing off. “This was to be my profession at one point, after all. But alas.”

     “You were to be a physician?”

     I attempt to not sound quite so shocked; and yet, on first glance he does not at all appear to be the type to do such work. Yet also, considering his nature—doing so much to help me, his interest in plants…

     “I studied for many years…” he speaks softly, “Especially on how to make medicine. I had dreams of being some great healer; but clearly, that’s not what fate had planned out for me. So I suppose I just…hold onto the knowledge, until the off chance arises that it becomes useful.”

     His entire demeanor is different now. He moves more slowly, his gaze merely aimed at the bowl. Though I know it may be better not to ask…

     “What had happened?”

     “Not enough people would accept care from someone like me. Many believed anything I created was cursed, and would harm them rather than heal them. And my social skills—well, that didn’t help the matter,” he sighs. “Trust me, I’m much better now than then, believe it or not.

     “But, occasionally I’m able to sell to merchants that could really care less about that,” he adds. “Otherwise, it’s just another broken dream, I suppose.”

     For a moment, I sit there in silence.

     Every time he tells me about his life, it is always rather wretched…

     “…Does anything good ever happen to you, Hikaru?”

     A small smirk appears on his face.

     “I met you. That’s surely something.”

     I glance up towards him, pulse beating faster—

     “A-And, I’ve made it this far. I like to think that’s worth something.”

     “Living at all is an achievement in its own right,” I say softly, smiling. Though my mind lingers to all those times I had wished to give up, at this moment I merely feel peaceful.

     For a little while longer I watch him, before finding myself within another coughing fit.

     “Here,” he says as he grows close to me, bringing the concoction.

     “Ah…” I look down at it, a boiling tea. It smells and looks…positively disgusting.

     “It won’t be pleasant, but it should help you. Just try to drink as much as you can handle.”

     If he is saying it is unpleasant, when he can find even rather unagreeable tastes agreeable…

     I hold my breath, and take as large of a gulp as can possibly be mustered. Immediately I cover my mouth to keep from vomiting it all.


     Once I finish it, I end up coughing even more, in spite of myself.

     “Are you okay?”

     All I can let out is a small moan…I think I would rather cut my tongue out than ever do that again.

     “That was…repulsive…” I mutter while standing up. “I am ready to leave when you are.”

     “Yeah…” he replies quietly, and begins gathering his things before we continue our journey.

     Once we leave the cave, we travel through a large forest, still damp from the previous night’s downpour. The weather is cool and pleasant, as is the scent of the rain. It is truly lovely… And yet, my limbs are still weak, and every once and again I begin coughing once more, or my nose begins running…even with this beauty, it is difficult not to remain miserable.

     “Suzette,” Hikaru says after a time, “Would you like to rest? You still don’t seem to be doing very well.”

     I sigh. I wish to keep going, and I would rather not appear so weak, and yet…

     “Yes, that would be nice.”

     And so, the two of us walk a little longer, before finding a drier spot near a tree to sit down.

     “When is the medicine supposed to begin working?”

     “You should be better by tomorrow,” he says, “But until then…”

     As he says this, I merely sink down the side of the tree, defeated; nearly immediately after, I feel his arm touching my shoulder.

     “Pšyku, Suzette…” he whispers to me.

     “It is not your fault. It is not as though you can predict the weather, or how one may react to it…”

     “Well, normally it isn’t so difficult to predict, but I wasn’t paying attention. So, it is my fault, in a way.”

     “How do you do that?” I ask looking up towards him.

     “‘Red Sky at night, sailor’s delight; red Sky in morning, sailors take warning,’ is what they say. I find it’s usually correct.”

      “Well, the only reason you did not see is because I was distracting you…” I reply absentmindedly

     In this wretchedness, it is nearly impossible not to be upset…and yet, as I sink further by his side, it feels as though his warmth melts all my worries away. Even so, I wish to shoot upwards, look away abashedly…

     However, being ill, chill, and shivering—surely anyone would wish for even a slight respite from that, yes? And he is the only other one here to give that to me, for better or worse.

     “Suzette,” he whispers gently, sending a shiver down my spine, “Do you want to go somewhere to rest?”

     “Right here is fine…unless you wish to move,” I mumble, closing my eyes.

     “Then this is good,” he replies almost inaudibly. As he does so, I can feel his body loosen, and fall down a little against the tree, and I too sink further down, until my head rests against his beating heart, and a soothing scent of lavender envelops me.

     And with this, the two of us drift off into sleep.


     {Quietly I sit on my bed, staring up towards the ceiling, head empty of nearly all thought. I should be sketching, or reading, or doing something useful—but instead I lay here listlessly, completely bored out of my mind. Just as I begin to doze off, however, my mother slowly opens my bedroom door.

     “Alex,” she says, “That new friend of yours has come to see you.”


     “…Yes, that one.”

     Swiftly I dart up, and rush to the door to greet him.

     “Jéyu bon!” I greet, and he smiles brightly in return. We have spent time together a few times now, and yet even still he always seems so happy to see me.

     “Where do you want to go today?” he asks.

     “I’m not really in the mood to go out…just want to come to my room?”

     “Y-Your room?” he asks, oddly flustered.

     “Is that okay?”

     “Yeah, it’s just, no one has ever invited me into their house before…”

     “There must be a first time for everything, right?” I reply with a smile, attempting to reassure him.

     He slowly nods, a small grin appearing on his face as well. And with that, the two of us go.

     “You paint in here?!” he gasps, looking at the mess of canvases and various other supplies strewn about everywhere.

     “Where else would I go? Well, aside from my master’s studio I guess, but that’s off in the woods…”

     For a moment he does not acknowledge me at all, instead looking upon my most recent work.

     “This hardly looks like a painting…” he comments under his breath, “It’s like he’s about to speak to you any second.”

     “Oh, I’m really not that goo—”

     Before I can finish the sentence, he speaks again.

     “Who is this a portrait of?”

     “Beaulieu, my master—he’s the one I study under,” I reply. “It will be his birthday rather soon, so I’ve been secretly sketching him, and working on this.”

     “So, he hasn’t posed for this? You made it up?”

     “Not exactly, but something like that.”

     His face completely lights up.

     “That’s so neat!”

     “Ah…” I trail off, a tad embarrassed, “It’s really not that much.”

     “Well, I can’t do anything remotely like this…” Hikaru answers somewhat dejectedly.

     “That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, right?” I say plopping down on my bed, looking up at him. But although I’m trying to cheer him up, he instead looks away, out the window.

     “Maybe…I don’t know.”

     “You know a lot, don’t you?”

     “Do I?”

     “You’ve told me a lot about what you’ve learned at the temple, and all those notes you made about the plants at the park.”

     “I guess so,” he mumbles, plopping down beside me on the side of the bed. “But, that seems different from doing something.”

     Abruptly I shoot up, and immediately rush through my various drawers.

     “Is everything okay?” he asks; but immediately as he finishes talking, I shove a sketchbook and pencil into his arms.

     “What is this for?”

     “You said you want to know how to do something, so we’re going to go do something. Follow me.”

     “But I can’t draw…”

     “Have you ever tried before?”

     He stays silent.

     “Don’t be nervous,” I smile, putting my hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll be fine! And even if you’re not, you’ve never drawn before so it doesn’t matter anyway!”

     Seemingly in spite of himself, he continues on with a slight grin.

     And off to the park we go. So much for not being in the mood to leave.

     Once we arrive, I look around, attempting to find a suitable subject, before in the distance seeing a long string of white lily bushes.

     “How would you like to draw that?”

     “Those lilies over there? They’re pretty, but that seems complicated…”

     “Well, I can teach you the best that I can. That’s why I’m here, right?”

     “…I’ll try.”

     The two of us go over and sit by the bushes, and he swiftly draws a small lily in the middle of the page.

     “It’s so bad…see, I said I can’t draw.”

     “Not with that attitude, you can’t.”

     He sighs.

     “Here, see the petals, how they look like long, rounded triangles?” I say, and he nods, “Pretend you’re not even looking at a flower, but instead a random assortment of shapes. Draw like that, and take your time. And don’t be afraid to look up at it as many times as you need.”

     “All right,” he mumbles, and begins drawing the flower again at the top of the page. This time his movements are much slower, more concise. As he grows closer to finishing the sketch, I notice his eye growing wider and wider.

     “That’s much better!” he beams.

     “See, I told you!” I exclaim. For a moment afterwards, he merely stares at me.

     “Alex…would it be okay if I tried drawing you?”

     “If you want,” I reply sheepishly. No one has ever asked to draw me before…admittedly, it’s a bit flattering.

     I sit still for perhaps twenty minutes, watching Hikaru go back and forth from the sketchbook, and looking at me. As he does so, he slowly pushes the book upwards so I can no longer see what he’s drawing anymore.

     “Hmm…” he mutters after a while, “I guess this is the best I can do…”

     “Can I see?”

     He turns the book around, showing me the portrait of myself. In it I’m facing forward, smiling with eyes closed; seemingly a dozen freehanded lilies filling the background.

     For a minute, I just stare—even if it is clear he is not very experienced, the composition is like that of an icon in a temple…I guess it makes sense, considering what art he probably sees the most. But, even still…

     “Hikaru…that’s wonderful!”

     “It’s not very realistic, though…”

     “Don’t say that! You can always just say it’s stylized! That’s the fun thing about art, it does not necessarily have to fit real life. Either way…I think it’s great.”

     He smiles more widely than I think I have ever seen him do.

     “Alex, is it okay if I take this book home with me? I-I’d like to keep practicing, I think.”

     “Go ahead, I have tons of these.”

     “Mâzjêr…” he says quietly, holding the sketchbook as if it’s some kind of treasure. “And thanks for letting me draw you…”

     “Hmm…” I mumble, “This isn’t exactly fair.”

     “What isn’t?”

     “Let me draw you now.”

     “Why would you want a picture of me?” he asks with a frown. “Even if you’re a good artist…I think the more accurate it is, the worse it’d be…”

     “You’re awfully hard on yourself.”

     “Only as much as I deserve,” he replies.

     In turn, I let out a small “hmph.”

     “Well, I’ll show you why you shouldn’t be. Sit up.”


     “No ‘buts,’ except yours sitting right there!” I reply a bit more loudly. “Now sit nice and tall, we’re making you a portrait!”

     Quickly he does so, seemingly a bit startled by my sudden assertiveness—even more so than before, I guess. All the while he stares at my sketchbook, pale face growing redder and redder. Soon, I lift it up to where he can’t see, just like he had done before.

     For a long time, I sit there, sketching and studying him. It feels very strange. Of course I’ve noticed him before—indeed, that’s how we even became friends in the first place—but, it really is a different experience paying deep attention to something you hadn’t before. Things that are familiar can become rather different.

     The longer this goes on, the more I wonder why he’s always so hard on himself. I guess with that white hair and the eye situation, he’s probably treated rather badly. But the more I look at him, the more it seems he really is—}


     “Suzette…” A deep voice disrupts the entire scene. “Suzette, please wake up.”

     “Nn…” Slowly I open my eyes, all around us is pitch black. The only sensation that can be felt is his arm around my shoulder, and my head against his breast…although, in this half-asleep state, I momentarily forget who “I” even am. Nothing feels real.

     Steadily I turn my gaze towards him, who in turn is looking down upon me. Even in the darkness I notice the lines on his face, the presence of age that was not there merely a moment before.

     “Hikaru…” I whisper, “What happened? You…look so old…”


     Suddenly, my wits return to me, at the worst possible time.

     “I—!” I exclaim, violently lunging free from his grasp, and looking away. “I, uh, thought you were someone else, I believe…I was dreaming.”

     “Right…” he replies, clearly unconvinced. Considering his name was said, it is a sad lie…but one can only do so much half awake.

     “Anyways,” he changes the subject, “We’ve slept for quite a long time now; we should probably get going again—at least, if you’re feeling better.”

     I lean forward slightly and look ahead, staring at nothing in particular. Now that he mentions it, I truly do feel much relieved from the illness. Had he not mentioned it, I may have entirely forgotten I was ill at all…it appears his disgusting concoction was legitimate after all. And so slowly I arise, stretching out my limbs, and he soon follows suit.

     “I am ready when you are, Hikaru.”

     He nods, and simply continues walking along, and I follow.

     Of course, as we continue our trek, my mind lingers towards the dream… By now, I have come to accept that this is merely something I must live with, although it scarcely feels any less strange. Peering into the lives of strangers like this, although fascinating, feels rather…illicit. But I suppose if I was that man, then it is merely my own memories. And Hikaru is not a stranger…although all these years have certainly changed him.

     I must admit, however, in spite of the oddness of it all, last night’s memory is a bit amusing. It seems they had not known each other for terribly long, and yet Hikaru was already gaining softness for him…and yet I—erm, I mean, and yet Alex had barely noticed at all. Yet they were young, and besides—if a woman had fallen in love with me, even if she were as forward as Hikaru was with him, unless she stated it clearly, I am sure I would brush it off with all sorts of reasons, just as Alex had.

     Thinking upon it, occasionally it almost appears as though Hikaru feels something towards me—no, that is a ridiculous thought! If he is fond towards other men, would he even be able to love a woman the same as well? Perhaps that would explain why he keeps himself more effeminately, and easily treats me like any other friend, unlike most men with the opposite sex—to him, I must not even be an option for a mate. And if any woman were to sway him, I am certainly not the one to do it. Ah, that surely would explain much…

     For some inexplicable reason, however…the thought also gives me a faint sense of sadness.


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