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~Suzette~

༻Chapter Thirteen༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

“Good morning, Hikaru.”

For a moment he merely glares at me blankly, as though he cannot recognize who I am, until he finally smiles slightly.

“Ah…good morning, Suzette.”

“So, what are we to do today?” I ask, “Do you wish to continue traveling, or are we to stay in this area?”

He just blinks at me.

“Why would we not…” his voice trails off, and he turns his head, seeing Chêne sitting to the side of us, “…Oh, right.”

“Well,” he mutters before clearing his voice, “That’s up to Chêne, if they find a gathering nearby or not.”

“I have already found one only a half-hour’s walk away,” Chêne says, “And it appears it shall be small enough for you, Hikaru.”

“You do not want to go to a large celebration?” I ask, turning towards Hikaru. I know he has gone out of his way to find something, so it is terribly rude to be too disappointed; yet also, would it not surely be more enjoyable with more people—erm, faeries—there?

“I’m sorry,” Hikaru says, “But…not at all. I do not do well with large crowds…you really don’t want to see that,” he adds with an odd air of seriousness.

“Then, whatever shall work for you works for me!” I reply more optimistically, and he smiles in return.

“But…” I begin, “How many days is it until the Solstice?”

“Only a few,” Chêne answers. I nod, and look down.

“I suppose it is nice to rest for a short while,” I comment. It does feel a tad strange, however…by now I am so used to traversing every day. Not traveling for multiple days—what is there to do?

For a few hours Hikaru and I look around, finding ripe berries to eat, some clear water to drink, before finding a clearing to sit down in once more. And then…nothing…

I glance over to see Hikaru with his eye closed and hands in his lap, seemingly perfectly at peace. A short distance away, Chêne is doing the same. I curl my legs up to myself, and sigh softly. For a short time I gaze out to the distance, focusing upon nothing in particular…but, scarcely without thought, my gaze shifts towards Hikaru. I cannot help but study every detail of him.

His violet hat bathes him in shadows; yet, even through the shadows, his face still appears so clear…all the lines carved by age, the glittering white of his lashes and hair. His bony hands are nearly as colorless…they almost appear as those of a specter. Perhaps that does not help the world’s cruelty towards him…and that does not even account for the scar hidden under his fringe. The only features most would consider desirable are his height and breadth—which, in spite of his more effeminate features, truly are more masculine. Although perhaps that merely adds to the odd air about him. Yes, that is what he resembles: an androgynous phantom from a faraway land…

So to me, why does he appear lovelier than anyone else…?

“Hikaru…” I whisper under my breath, but in response he lifts his head.

“Yes?”

“O-oh, um—” I fumble, looking away—I had not meant to say that aloud!

“Not to offend,” I begin, “But just sitting here, not even moving at all—it is a tad boring.”

“Hmm…” He looks away for a moment, before finally looking back towards me.

“Would you like something to read? I’ve some books in my satchel.”

I stare.

“You have…books in there? Not merely that journal I sometimes see you carry, yet multiple other books?”

“…Yes?”

I just stare.

“So…at all times, you carry an instrument, candles, medicinal supplies, occasionally food, and now books?” I do not mean to grow loud, but, it is so…!

“Hikaru, that bag is not that large! How is that even possible?!”

“Is it not obvious?” I hear a flat voice say to the side. I glance over to see Chêne wearing the same emotionless expression they always do.

“Faeries?”

“No,” they say, “I am surprised you have not noticed the sigil.”

“The…sigil?”

“This,” Hikaru says, pointing to the flap of his satchel. On it is embroidered a strange design; of course I have noticed it before, but I have never paid mind to it. I assumed perhaps it was some Asashian pattern, considering his clothing and such.

“I do not understand what embroidery has to do with this…” I mutter. My, it seems even after all our time traveling, he still has so many secrets which I still do not understand…

“It’s a magical symbol,” he says. “It allows this bag to be much larger on the inside than the outside. It is how I’m able to carry so much with me.

“I’ve never mentioned it, because…” he pauses. “Well, you always seem so put off by these things.”

“No…” I say, slightly regretfully. “I do not mean to be rude, it is just…I never believed anything like that, or even someone like Chêne, were real…”

“I suppose that is understandable,” he says. “But yes, that’s how this works.”

“So…” I begin, “If I were to embroider that symbol upon my bag, would it become like yours as well?”

“If I did it, then yes,” he says. “Only priests can—”

Immediately, his mouth shuts tight.

“…Priests? Are you a priest, Hikaru?”

I thought he was pale before, but now what small smatterings of color his skin does have entirely vanish.

“I-I—” he stumbles repeatedly in a croaking voice. “I must go.”

“…Go—?”

Swiftly as the wind he darts upwards, and dashes away from me.

“Wait—!” I shout, chasing after him.

The leaves and twigs crack violently beneath our feet as we both sprint faster and faster.

Soon, however, I jump and pull him back into my embrace. Though he could surely shove me off with ease, it would involve throwing me to the ground…and it appears he is not prepared for that.

“Suzette—!”

“Stop! I will not inquire any further, just please do not leave!”

For what feels an eternity, we stand there in place, breathing heavily. Subconsciously, I embrace him tighter and tighter…

“I do not mean to always pry so much into your life, Hikaru…I am sorry,” I whisper. “It is always so interesting, so curious, it is…I scarcely think of it—”

“No…” he heaves, “I…there are things I can’t tell you. I wouldn’t mind, but…I can’t.”

“You have…not murdered someone or something of that nature, have you?”

“No, nothing like that,” he replies solemnly. “It is…well, I should not bring it up again.”

“Hikaru,” I pull him closer to my height, whispering into his ear, “I do not mind if you are a priest. Even if it is the moon, you know I do not quite concern myself with that.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about—it’s never been you,” he says, at last softly pushing me away.

What does that mean?

But, I know I cannot ask.

“You two,” Chêne’s voice manifests from behind us, “It would be well for us to return to the clearing.” Though their face keeps the same expression as always, their eyes appear to betray some indiscernible emotion…

Hikaru and I both nod silently, and begin following them back. However, I trot up to his side, and then—

“Suzette?” He gazes down at me, as my palm tightly grips his.

“I thought we were taking this journey together, Hikaru.”

“Well…of course we are.”

“Then do not leave; at least, certainly not like that…if I must cease what I am doing or asking, just tell me so. All right?”

“Yes…I’m so sorry. I panicked—”

“No need to apologize,” I whisper, squeezing his hand even more, “Let us just stay together this time.”

“Can do,” he replies with a gentle smile.

And soon, the three of us return to our spot in the clearing.

“So, of those books…” I begin, attempting to change the subject back to before.

“Oh, right,” he says while opening up his bag, “What kind of book would you like to read?”

“What do you own?”

“Well…maybe it would be easier to just bring them out,” he says. Then he plunges both hands deep into the bag; as they are brought up, the entire satchel suddenly stretches…and then comes an entire box of books!

“There are so many on you! At least a couple dozen!”

“Heh,” he chuckles, “In spite of what it seems, I get bored too—just less so with you around.”

“Ah, well—” I mutter to myself as I begin shuffling through the volumes, attempting not to think too deeply of his words.

Immediately one book draws my eyes: one bound differently from all the others on the top, small threads revealing the yellowed pages within. Though I a part of me wonders if it is truly appropriate for inspection, my hand still comes drawn to it. Surely he will say something, if I am not meant to see it…

As I pull it out I notice the covers are even more worn, a light and withered blue. Oddly, the front cover has nothing at all…but once I turn to the back, I notice what appears to be a flowing script written vertically. It is entirely illegible…

“If you’re wanting to actually read, I doubt that’s a good choice,” Hikaru says at last.

“What is this?” I ask, opening the pages. Inside lie weathered drawings of strange beings, and more of the same, swirling script which adorns the cover. “Is…this what Asashian looks like?”

“Yes…I’ve had that book ever since I was very young,” he says wistfully. “It’s a book of faerie tales from my mother; at the time, it was the only book we owned…I’ve kept it ever since, even if I can hardly remember how to read it now.”

“Hmm…” I hum, flipping through the pages. “You really are a rather nostalgic person.”

“Am I?”

“You have kept this book after all these years, you still wear the clothes of your homeland even if you have not been there in a very long time, you know much about all the old legends and tales…”

“Well, I suppose you’re not wrong…” he utters while glancing away from me.

“It is not bad,” I assure him. “Just an observation.”

As I continue glancing at the book, however, my mind begins wandering…

If he is such a nostalgic person…I wonder how often he thinks of Alex? Would he rather him be here than myself? Although we seem to be close, Alex is the one he fell in love with after all; I am just some woman…

I cannot help but sigh at these thoughts, more loudly than intended.

“Is everything all right?”

“Yes, yes,” I reply softly, returning the book to the box, shifting through the volumes once more. This time, I attempt to look more closely upon the spines of each book, reading them carefully in order to keep my mind from going too far astray…yet with such entrancing titles as Plants of Marseilles, Plants of Colverte, and Plants of Illyaville, my mind continues returning to its previous thoughts. At last, I merely dip my hand down and choose whatever it happens upon. To my surprise, I find it is not another one of his endless journals, but something I am familiar with.

The Blue Rose…you have read this, Hikaru?” His eye grows wide, and face grows red.

“Is…that bad?” I let out a small chuckle.

“Why would it be? Because it is romance?” He glances away from me, but I continue speaking. “With that song you sang for me, not terribly long ago…I already had an idea that you may be fond of such things. Oh, do not be so embarrassed. It is sweet…”

“Well, you can read whatever you like,” he says quietly, returning to his spot under the tree. I, in turn, take the novel and do likewise.

Holding the volume in my hands, I cannot help but be reminded of the circumstances under which I read this last. It was when I was just beginning to grow into womanhood, still innocent and hopeful for the future. It is difficult not to chuckle at how sincerely I believed in the sweet nonsense of novels such as this one, where a princess chooses to marry a bard, and in their travels both become beloved by all the world.

It was scarcely a month after finishing reading this when my family announced my their intention to find me a husband. That any hopes of fulfilling my dreams, or of falling in love were nothing but the fantasies of a child. A rude introduction that such things truly are fiction.

And yet…

As the thought passes through my mind, it is almost as though the entire scene around me becomes illuminated. I glance over towards the white-haired one beside me, think of this journey and where it shall hopefully lead.

Perhaps such stories are not entirely ridiculous after all…

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

{Quietly I walk up to the door of the small house situated in a rather unfortunate part of the town. Although the houses around here are in a sorry state—and even this one is, to an extent—for a long time now it’s been my favorite place to be. Surely it’s been a thousand times I’ve not only visited, but abruptly barged in with no trouble at all. It’s almost like a second home.

So right now, why is it so difficult even just to knock?

The chill air washes over me, a red leaf or two lodges itself in my hair. I don’t want to stay out here for long.

And so I knock, a gesture soon answered by a middle-aged woman with curly beige hair.

“Alex, good afternoon!” she exclaims, her face surprisingly lighting up at the sight of me.

“Hello Madame Wakahisa,” I say with my most polite voice, “Is Hikaru here?”

“He’s in his room,” she replies, “You can come in. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”

Maybe?

I don’t say that aloud, though, and merely enter the decrepit building without another word. However, soon Madame Wakahisa grabs my arm, pulling me back slightly.

“Is all well, Alex?” she asks with a look of genuine concern on her face. “You have not been around often, and you seem different from usual…”

I can’t help but smile faintly.

“Thank you, but everything’s fine. Just been busy lately.”

“All right then,” she answers, smiling back, although understandably, she doesn’t seem to believe me.

Quickly I make my way through the small house, reaching his closed door.

Under normal circumstances, I would walk right in without caring to knock—it’s never been an issue before. But now…it just feels different. Uncomfortable. So, I give the door a light tap.

“Yes?” I hear a muffled voice reply softly on the other side.

“Can I come in?” For a moment, I am answered by nothing but silence.

“…Yeah, if you want to.”

Slowly I open up the door to see him sitting on his bed in the same spot as always, curled up with a book I swear he must have read a hundred times already.

“How’s everything going?” I ask quietly, sitting beside him as about as gently as I can make myself. “It’s been a little while.”

“Only a few weeks,” he whispers. “That’s not very long.”

“It is for us, isn’t it?” He doesn’t say anything.

“Look…I’m not mad at you, Hikaru.”

“Even though I got angry at you for no good reason?”

“Yes, even in spite of that…I’m more worried about you. You’ve been acting strange…”

He closes his book and holds it in hand, but instead of looking at me he continues gazing off into the distance.

“Aren’t I always strange?” he muffles.

I hesitate to answer…I can’t honestly say no.

“…Maybe,” I reply after a moment, “But it’s never a bad thing. Right now though, you seem really depressed…” He chuckles under his breath, but doesn’t say a word.

“You can come to me with anything,” I say, placing my hand on his shoulder. “I mean…you know you’re my best friend, right?” For a split moment, he glances up to my direction—but just as quickly he looks away again.

I sigh, and at last decide to get a bit desperate.

“Please tell me what’s wrong—maybe I can help you.”

“It’s not worth your time,” he says, “And I don’t think there’s any helping me.”

“Hmm…” I put my hand to my chin, and begin thinking.

“Are you having issues with your mother?” He doesn’t say anything, move, or have any reaction at all.

“Work? Released from your job?” Nothing.

“Did some other bad thing happen?” Still nothing.

“Have a girl you fancy?” Abruptly, he turns to where I can’t see his face at all.

“Aha!” I exclaim, “Is that why you’re so upset? Did she reject you?”

“…How do you know that’s really what I’m upset about?” he whispers.

“It’s the only thing you’ve given any reaction to.”

“Well…” he sighs, “If that is it, what does it matter? It’s nothing important.”

“If it’s making you this upset, it must be at least a little bit important.” He returns to his silence.

“So, who is it?”

“I…” his voice trails off. “I don’t want to say.”

“Okay then,” I go on, “Does she know?”

“No…and they never will,” he mutters.

“Why not?” He sighs.

“I…I don’t want them to hate me. If I’m around them too much, and they catch on, they’ll…”

“Have you isolated yourself from her? Is that why you got upset at me…to try to isolate everyone from you?”

He digs his head into his arms.

“See, look at how easy I am to read…”

“But Hikaru,” I say, taking a gentler tone, “You know you’ll never know how she reacts if you never say anything to her, right?”

“That’s not true.”

“Has she ever said anything cruel to you that makes you think that?”

“…No.”

“Hikaru, look at me…I know you don’t like it, but please look at me.” Just barely he lifts his head up, and his gaze meets mine. It’s good enough.

“There’s always a chance you’ll be rejected…I mean, you know what happened between me and Ines,” I say, not being able to entirely hide my sadness even now. “But you really can never know until you try.”

“But Alex…”

“What is it about you that you think’s so horrible? Your name, your hair, your shyness? If that would turn her away, then she’s an asshole anyways.” He chuckles, but this time it seems genuine.

“Look,” I say, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. If you really decide to never say anything to her then that’s your business…but please don’t do that just because you don’t believe in yourself.”

“But you don’t—”

“I’ve told you before, no buts!” I interrupt. “You know my master, I’ve known him my entire life. He never chose me to be his apprentice…I saw how wonderful he painted, and wanted to do the same. But I had to ask him to take me, although I believed myself to be awful at it.”

“But you’re amazing!” he chimes in incredulously.

“Apparently he thought so too—or at least, believed I had some sort of potential. Even though I didn’t believe in myself at all…I still tried anyways, and look where it got me. Do you see what I mean?”

“…Yeah, I see.”

“So even if you have no confidence whatsoever, please try anyways…even if not in this instance, please don’t always be too scared.” He smiles faintly.

“If you say so.”

“And, you don’t have to avoid me just because you’re worried about some girl.”

“U-um…” His eye grows wide, and he looks at me with an odd expression I can’t place…but, it soon softens up.

“…Thanks Alex,” he says quietly. I smile.

Hopefully things can get back to normal from here.}

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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