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~Suzette~

༻Chapter Fourteen༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

Steadily I open my eyes, letting the soft morning sunlight shine through. It is so early, the sky is still tinted rosy colors from the dawn, a dewy smell still lingers in the air. Perhaps I should have slept longer, yet I am already entirely awake…

The Solstice is here!

I look over to see if Hikaru has awoken as well, but he is soundly asleep. In my excitement I almost shake him awake, before suddenly stopping myself. Knowing him, he probably stayed awake much later than I…so for now, I decide to let him be.

“Chêne?”

I look around for the faerie, hoping perhaps to have someone to converse with for a little while; however, it seems they have left—that is, before they materialize right in front of my eyes.

“Euh…” I utter, “Do…do you always disappear like this when nobody is awake?”

“Why would I not?”

Well, I suppose there is no reason they need to be seen, then…

“So,” I begin, “When does the celebration begin?”

“I am sure it has already begun—but, your kind does not typically celebrate the entire day, do they?”

“No, usually after some hours everyone is too tired to continue, or they find business elsewhere…” I pause. “For a woodland faerie, you seem to know quite a bit about humans…”

“I would hope so,” they reply, and for a moment it almost seems as though they smile. “I have studied your kind for a very, very long time.”

“I see,” I reply faintly, while gazing away from them, and out into the forest. They chuckle.

“No inquiries? That seems unlike you.”

“You…no, it appears most are bothered by it,” I sigh.

“Curiosity is not an ill trait to have; at least, of course I would not think so. And besides,” they continue, “I don’t have any secrets other than those others entrust to me. So ask whatever you please.”

Swiftly I turn back towards them; perhaps a bit more quickly than intended, and yet—

“What made you interested in humans?”

“Before humans came to this land, I discovered an artifact from far away. I had no idea where it had come from…but I kept it safe, always hoping on day I may discover its secrets.

“At last, when your kind did arrive, I could tell these creatures were the creators of that strange object. They were quite like the fae, like the animals…and yet simultaneously, entirely different from us. Though one might think after so long studying them would grow boring, your kind proves to be endlessly fascinating.”

I glare at Chêne with a look that I quite imagine mirrors my first vision of them.

“…Soleia is over three thousand years old.”

“That’s correct.”

“Chêne…how old are you? Do most trees live that long?”

Now, they unmistakably smirk.

“I cannot definitively answer either question,” they reply. “But if I say I am older than death, would you believe?”

Once more, I look away.

“I hear your kind is fond of tricks…so, I cannot answer definitively either.” They laugh quietly once more.

“My, most humans upon meeting me seem to believe every word I say in spite of the tales, just because my mere presence seems fantastical enough they are willing to believe all; yet, you’re one of the few who keeps your skepticism. It’s nice.”

Involuntarily, I begin to tense up.

So far, they have been surprisingly kind, even reasonable…but in this moment, they carry an alien aura which in spite of myself unnerves me, although even that is hard to describe why.

As though they had read my thoughts, they speak once more.

“No need to be alarmed, I am just speaking without much thought. Perhaps someday your logic will find out the answer to that question for certain…although I know that is not the one you particularly care about.” My eye slowly focuses back upon them.

“…What is that to mean?”

“Just remember,” they declare, “Fae are perceptive on a level you can hardly comprehend. It is simple for us to detect the feelings of humans which you supposedly keep hidden. This is why, amongst our own, we are so carefree—there is hardly such a thing as a secret. And this too is why we appear so mischievous to your kind—you are so easy to fool. And, if we allow you just an inkling of the perception we naturally possess, the results can be quite amusing to see. Do you understand?”

“Chêne…do you truly know my secrets?”

The idea is ridiculous; and yet, everything about this affair, perhaps everything about my life at this point, is ridiculous…

They lean in closer to me, and it feels as though their tall, slender shadow engulfs me.

“Of course I do,” they whisper. “Even the ones you attempt to hide from yourself. That is why I tell you this. It seems useful for you to know.”

“How am I to know you are not lying?”

Chêne glances to the side, before their leafy green eyes lock together with my own.

“I do not know the specifics of everything, and besides, it would be rude to just state it outright—,” they whisper, “But I know it involves a certain someone lying right beside us. Am I correct?”

My heart stops. I glare at them. I move my mouth in an attempt to form some sort of sentence, but instead I remain speechless.

They move away from me once more.

“Tonight, at the celebration,” Chêne says, “Be careful. Hopefully the other participants shall all be too drunk to care one way or the other. But if you give them a reason to…your secrets may not remain secrets for much longer.”

“How am I to avoid that?”

“Go along with the festivities. Don’t be too prudish, lest they find it more enjoyable to watch you flounder as all is revealed about you. Do not act so surprised by everything either, or they may try to exaggerate your reactions. Just be as inconspicuous as possible, and do what everyone else does. Understood?”

“Yes,” I mumble. “Thank you…thank you for warning me.”

They go silent, and so do I. All I can do is merely close my eyes and sigh.

It is quite amusing…I am always so amazed at how many secrets he holds. Yet we truly are not so different…are we?

“Ah,” Chêne says after a moment, “Good morning.”

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

The long day continues on just as any other. Eating, drinking, attempting to amuse ourselves to buy time. It feels quite strange; normally by this time on the Solstice, I would already be home resting from the festivities—even if faeries supposedly start earlier than us. This is a celebration of the day after all, it would be a tad nonsensical to go into the night. But, I suppose faeries are notorious for anything other than making sense.

“Hikaru,” I say after a while, “Should we get ready to leave?”

“Get ready?” He looks at me almost as though I am speaking another language.

“Well…” I sigh, coming to the realization, “I suppose we have nothing in particular to get ready with, do we?”

“Like changing into nicer clothes?”

“Yes.” At this, he laughs.

“Even if we did, you wouldn’t want to do that anyways,” he replies. “This isn’t exactly that kind of celebration.”

“I suppose it would be different amongst faeries…”

“Not just them; but, I guess with your position you wouldn’t go to a festival like that.”

“Oh, you mean amongst…” my voice trails off, as…I never quite know how to say this in a way that feels proper…

“Yeah,” he mutters. “It’s fine, you’re not missing much in particular. Usually there are hordes of people in various states of drunkenness, dissonant noise all around…clearly others enjoy it, but it’s not for me.”

“Will today’s festival be that way?”

“Probably a little, but there shouldn’t be hordes of fae, at least.” For a moment I sit quietly, thinking.

“Hikaru…are you sure you wish to do this? You do not seem particularly enthusiastic…”

“Don’t worry,” he replies. “It’s good to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes—well, that only makes it sound worse, but—” he sighs.

“If you’re there, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” he says softly. “And if not, it is only for a short time. Really, don’t worry about it, okay?” I grin slightly.

“Thank you…you truly do not have to do all this.”

“It’s no problem,” he replies, breaking our eye contact. “Maybe it’d be best to head off soon; the sun has already come fairly low in the sky.”

Chêne leads Hikaru and I through the now far too familiar forest, although it is not long before we come upon unfamiliar scenery. As we walk, the forest floor grows denser with grasses and brush, even the trees seem somehow more wild than those we have encountered thus far. Although there is still much daylight, inside the woods it becomes surprisingly dark and cool, with mostly small beams of light shining through the cracks of the canopy. In a lot of ways, it quite resembles the Forbidden Forest…and it is difficult not to grow uneasy at the thought. Even if it turned out well, I suppose, for us…I would prefer not to relive that again.

After a while, just like that night, the sounds of music slowly, but surely grows louder; however, it is doubtful this could be any more different from the music of that night. Unlike the divine, operatic voices of those woods, here the sound of voices is instead replaced by some shrill instrument and the chaotic beating of drums. Eventually we reach the source of the festivities…a surprisingly small clearing within the forest, and an alarmingly large bonfire within.

In spite of Chêne’s warning, I stick close to Hikaru like a burr caught on one’s clothing.

“Are they going to burn the whole forest down?” I ask him frantically.

“They can contain it fine, there’s no need to worry.” I take his word, yet it is still difficult not to become concerned at the intense flames.

The three of us enter the clearing—though I attempt to act normal, it is difficult not to rigidly grip Hikaru’s hand.

With our presence, everything stops. The music, any dancing or conversation, the entire gathering becomes silent and still. For what seems an eternity, the faeries stare at us with the darkened eyes…and beyond Chêne, I finally have a sense of what these creatures Hikaru so often speaks with actually look like.

Similar to Chêne, all the faeries bear a vaguely humanoid shape, bent and accentuated with beastly features. They all resemble different creatures—foxes, rabbits, mice; there are even many which resemble insects, and while they are not quite as tiny as their counterparts, they are definitely smaller than even a newborn child. I am surprised at just how small they truly are; with Chêne being so large, I simply assumed most faeries were a substantial size. And yet, almost if not every creature here is smaller than even myself. Most of them wear simple clothing draped around themselves, yet a few are covered in nothing but fur, feathers, or the hard skin of insects.

At last, a faerie resembling a fox is the first to speak.

“Chêne, you really did come!”

Nearly all of the faeries in the glade swarm around their larger kin—it seems they scarcely notice Hikaru and I at all!

“Why would I say I’d come if I would not?”

“You’re late!” the fox exclaims.

“And,” adds a small faerie with the wings of a robin, “Why would you of all people come here of all places?”

Chêne chuckles, and for perhaps the first time ever I see them smile in quite a genuine way.

“I’m not like the gods, or those human kings and nobles—I’m not too good for anyone.”

“Hikaru,” I whisper, “Is Chêne like a king, or whatever their equivalent would be, of the faeries?”

“They don’t have government, but…” he trails off, thinking. “Chêne is one of the few beings at all that nearly every faerie respects, so I guess you could say they’re something like that.”

“Hey,” the fox says, looking in our direction, “Who are…those?”

“You dolt,” a rabbit reprimands, “Chêne said they were bringing humans along, remember?”

Before I realize it, a small faerie with butterfly wings lands on my shoulder—!

“I have never seen one up close…” they say in a soft voice, caressing my hair with four tiny hands…

“I…” I begin, shifting my eyes to look at them better, “I cannot say I have seen a faerie this close either.”

At this, the small creature laughs innocently, and I gain some sense of ease.

“…Hmph,” the fox mumbles, crossing their arms. “But why.” Their rude tone clearly is more of a statement than a question, yet Chêne answers regardless.

“Because,” Chêne says with a commanding tone, “They are my friends. Their travels have brought them far away from their own kind, yet they still wanted to celebrate this blessed day; therefore, I brought them here. Understood?” The fox droops their ears, looking away from both Chêne and us.

“…Fine.”

“Can we…go back to the music?” chimes in another rabbit faerie, sitting by a drum. Now, a new voice begins speaking.

“You never had to stop,” says Hikaru. Scarcely a second passes, before the music and festivities begin once more.

“So what do we do—?” I ask Hikaru.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a party, so perhaps you’d know better than me.”

“Where are you going?” I glance over, and realize the small faerie from before is still gently perched upon my shoulders.

“Oh, just to the northern provinces—”

“Do you want something to drink?” I return my gaze down, seeing the rabbit faerie looking up towards us. “Humans don’t mind alcohol, do they?”

“Not at all,” I say giggling; saying humans “don’t mind” is surely an understatement.

“What do you have?” I look over towards Hikaru, slightly shocked.

“You like alcohol?”

“Suzette, surely you don’t think that’s strange."

“No…I suppose you just never appeared to be the kind of person who would.” He laughs.

“Well, I’ve not had it in who knows how long, but I’m not against it. And,” he adds, looking back to the faerie, “What do you have?”

“We’ve wine, mead—”

“Can we have mead? Would you like that, Suzette?”

“I have never tried it…but, perhaps I shall like it.”

“Then I’ll be back!” the rabbit hops away into the forest, and returns back with two simple pots.

“Thank you,” Hikaru and I both reply simultaneously.

“What is your name? And yours as well—” I add towards to small faerie still perched upon my shoulder.

“A name…?” the small faerie mumbles.

“Fae don’t usually have names,” Hikaru chimes in. “Chêne’s an exception.”

“Why not?”

“Chêne’s actually important,” the rabbit says.

“And we’re not so dumb we can’t keep track of each other,” says the fox from before, walking up to us with a devious smile.

“Ugh, why are you being a jerk even more than usual?” the rabbit turns towards them angrily.

“These two almost trampled me in the forest, over running around like madmen!”

Trampled? I do not recall…

But soon I realize it…this is not who they truly are. They may easily be some small plant, scarcely noticeable… So then, shall they attempt to make this entire night miserable? Or do as Chêne warned—no, that cannot happen—perhaps this truly was a mistake…

“We’re sorry, we didn’t realize,” Hikaru replies softly, seemingly not knowing what else to say.

“Don’t you say sorry, this idiot needs to learn to respect those above them!” the rabbit exclaims, punching the fox’s arm.

“Hey—!”

Soon the two begin bickering with increasing intensity. Hikaru gently clasps my hand, and both of us sink away, hiding amongst the others here.

“Hikaru, are faeries, erm…always this way?”

“Not usually, but just like we have our own personalities…”

“That is fair,” I reply, admittedly not listening too deeply. Instead, I attempt to focus on the strange music; already one faerie has grown ire for us…but I must stay calm, act as though everything is normal. It appears this is becoming just as tense as I had feared…

From the side Hikaru and I drink our mead—and I find I enjoy it a bit more than I anticipated. And so he and I stay, gazing amongst the rest of the guests. To be truthful, it is enjoyable in its own way, watching the strange myriad of creatures in the clearing…more peaceful than arguing with them, at least. Some can be seen prancing around the fire, others chase one another, and others still have clearly drank far too much to hardly move. Studying them, in spite of their appearance, they truly are not that different from ourselves. And yet, even so…

I cannot bring myself to converse with anyone, or even go out amongst them. Maybe we are or are not so different; yet regardless I feel foreign, like I do not belong a wit. The idea of speaking to anyone gives me a strange anxiety. With this thought, I slyly look up towards Hikaru…

“Is this how you always feel?” I whisper to him.

“What do you mean?”

“That feeling of lingering upon the outskirts, never quite able to go and be apart of society like everyone else…” He sighs.

“So it seems this was a poor idea,” he utters, eye drooping down towards his drink. “If you would like to leave, we can go, and maybe try to make your Solstice a little better.”

“N-no, I know how much trouble you went through—”

“You’re sad…” Once more, it is the rabbit from before who speaks. “I took care of that one from earlier, so no need to worry about them anymore.”

“That is a nice sentiment, but…I suppose I just have never attended a celebration like this, nor have I ever met so many faeries before today…”

“Hmm—” the rabbit puts their—hand?—to their chin, and lightly thumps their large foot on the ground. As they do so, I ponder upon why they are being so kind to us…but perhaps it is just as he said; just as some humans are kind, so too can they be.

“Why not dance with us?” they suggest at last, “Do humans know how to dance?” Although I try to stifle my laughter, it is becoming increasingly difficult.

“My, you seem to think humans scarcely do anything!”

“You’re the first one I’ve met, how am I supposed to know?” At this, the two of us laugh loudly together, and for the first time since arriving I find myself truly enjoying myself.

“So then, you want to dance with us?”

“Oh, well…I do not know how to dance like this.”

“Then how on earth do humans dance?”

“The music tends to be more…slow, melodic as we dance. And one tends to dance with a partner…”

“But, there are two of you?” the rabbit looks up at us with wide eyes.

“It is—well, I suppose it is a tad hard to explain…” I reply. In truth, it is not that difficult…but I would prefer not to dwell on it deeply.

“Right, Hikaru?” I nudge his arm, but it is a moment before he responds. It appears he dazed out entirely…!

“R-right,” he says with uncertainty, clearly proving my suspicion.

“Why not you two dance together, and show us how humans do it!” the rabbit clasps together their hands excitedly.

My heart begins beating wildly with the drums—Hikaru and I, dancing together…still, I look his way.

“Hikaru, do you know how to dance?”

“Like the fae?” he replies. “Not at all.”

“No,” I reply, “Slowly, gently…that type of dancing.”

“W-well,” he quickly looks away, face flushing red, “I did once, but that was ages ago…”

My pulse grows swifter, swifter, and yet—

“Would you enjoy trying again?” I ask, extending my palm.

Momentarily he pauses, and slowly his gaze shifts down to myself…before soon, the warmth of his palm and smile envelop me.

“I would love to.”

“Oh, I’ll go get the lyre—!” the rabbit exclaims, hopping off.

It is not long before the music from before quiets, and the faeries surrounding us cease their dancing. Some sit in preparation for what is to come, and others still begin conversing with one another quietly.

“Hikaru,” I whisper, “Do you believe this is bothering the others here?”

“Not at all—if it was, you would know.”

“Then I shall trust you,” I reply quietly, facing him.

I inhale deeply, as his other hand clasps my shoulder; and mine, likewise, reaches for his waist—

“You said you have danced such as this before?”

“Yes, I just might be clumsy—”

“I do not mind, as long as you are enjoying yourself.” He smiles widely, and I follow suit.

“The same for you.”

And with this, the clear, tender notes of the lyre begin to resound in the clearing, much more beautifully than I imagined possible based upon the music from before.

One step, then two—slowly at first, for we merely move rather ungracefully, as we gain balance on this terribly uneven ground. Yet it is not long before every twirl becomes fluid, our gowns whirling around us in the air—

With each step we draw nearer to one another, until our warmth melds into one—

I close my eyes, and soon, before I realize it…everything slips away.

No longer are we in the forest, but a large empty ballroom. The music is merely an apparition in our minds, with the quiet clacking of our steps and the warmth between us being all that exists. I gaze down, into his eye, and smile softly—

Slowly I open my eyes, the ballroom returning to its true form as a forest. The music appears to become louder again, more than just a fantasy. I gaze up into his eye, and smile softly—

Has…everything truly changed so much? Or is it much the same as before?

The lyre continues on.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

From that moment, the night becomes much more enjoyable, as Hikaru and I continue to drink, and so too grow more comfortable here. A part of me wonders if perhaps someday, Hikaru can grow more comfortable with human society as well…

As the night continues on, the faeries steadily begin dispersing, as the day of the Solstice grows to be no more. The fire becomes little more than embers, and eventually the only light illuminating us are fireflies…more than I have ever imagined possible in one area.

I sit against a fallen tree and close my eyes, enjoying the newfound silence. After the celebration, it is so peaceful. That is, until I am jarred by a body thumping into my side.

“H-Hikaru?”

“Nnn…”

“Are you fine?”

“Yeah, I’m fffine,” he mumbles, slightly slurred.

“You drank less than I had…” I sigh. “When was the last time you have had so much alcohol?”

“It was…it waassss…” he pauses for a moment, attempting to hold himself steadily upwards. “I think it was…3053! That’s when it was! It was…awful, though…”

“That was almost a decade ago…!”

“Damn straight it was! Luckily…you don’t even want to know…” Now, I cannot help but burst loudly into laughter.

“What’s so funny?”

“N-nothing,” I reply. “Yet I…believe you should rest, though.

“Yes, you’re right,” he mumbles, leaning into me. However, soon he shoots himself up, clearly disorienting himself.

“Is something the matter—?”

“I’m sorry,” he whispers hardly coherently, placing his hand on his face. “Obviously I’m a bit…a bit…out of it.”

“No, you do not need to apologize,” I reply, lightly placing my arm around him. With this, he sinks into my side one more, further, further…my pulse beats madly. Before either of us realize it, his head lays in my lap…

“Suzette…” he whispers almost imperceptibly, clearly falling in slumber, “Is this all…”

“Yes, it is. Do not worry.” He adjusts himself slightly, into a more agreeable position. As he does so his long hair falls to the side, revealing the fullness of his face…the crude scare where an eye should be, every line worn by time and sorrow.

Without thought, I begin stroking his hair—

“Hikaru, is this—” He chuckles.

“Yes, it’s all right,” he replies with a grin.

“Suzette…” he whispers, “I’m so grateful you’re here. Thank you…”

My face begins growing warm…

“You are the one that is helping me…I should be thanking you.”

“Hmm, perhaps…” he says, “But I’m still grateful it’s you.”

“What for? I have not done anything…”

“You made me come here. Okay, not…not literally, but…surely you know…I wasn’t the best, but I tried.”

“You were not the best…?”

“You know,” he mumbles, “At talking to everyone, interacting with the rest of the party…I’m sure you noticed sometimes, sometimes I dissociated from everyone, but…

“Being an outsider…” he trails off, even longer than before, “It’s…maybe I make it seem easy, or not, but it’s really not easy. Never blending in wherever you go, never being ‘normal’…even though I feel more comfortable with fae, something like this…is still a bit…

“Even if you’re an outsider, it’s easier to go out in the world when you’re not alone…so, thank you, Suzette…”

“I still do not feel I have done much,” I whisper, still stroking his hair. “It is not as though I am not enjoying myself…”

He smiles, although says nothing. After a short while, another voice greats me.

“I believe it is my time to go,” Chêne says, appearing out of the shadows.

“Are you going to say farewell to Hikaru first? I believe he has fallen asleep…”

“He’ll understand. And I am sure we will meet again before your journey is over.”

“I do hope you enjoyed the celebration, Chêne…although we scarcely saw you at all.”

“I had hoped you two could manage yourselves. Luckily it appears I was right.”

“Yes…and it seems your warnings were not needed. In spite of that one faerie that attempted to quarrel with us…”

“Indeed; although it appears your secrets were still revealed.”

“W-what?” I look up towards him, panicked. “I do not recall anyone saying—”

“I do not mean the secrets you keep from others. In this instance, it appears to be yourself. There was an emotion within you that appeared repressed…although now it is not.”

I come completely still.

“He is one of my good friends, of your kind,” Chêne says uncharacteristically tenderly. “Be kind to him.”

I say nothing.

“Farewell,” they continue, “I am sure we’ll be meeting again.” I nod ever so slightly.

With that, Chêne themselves disperses within the forest.

I merely gaze down upon the man sleeping in my lap, and begin stroking his hair once more… I stay mesmerized upon his sleeping face, enraptured, mind overflowing with thoughts.

My, we must look so farcical; we are so very different…

I do not believe I want this journey to end—of course I shall always desire my bakery, but do I truly want…

The only person I know of him ever loving was a man; even if I used to be him, I certainly am not now…

Seemingly a thousands thoughts in all direction, poring and flooding like a dreadful storm. But just as all storms do, the clouds subside. Flickers of light shine through, illuminating everything clearly, in brilliant colors.

Chêne was right…even if only to myself, I can at last admit the truth.

I love you, Hikaru.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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