I jump backwards in my seat, nearly flinging the book out of my hands.
“Y-Yes Alex? Is everything okay?”
He just stares at me.
“That’s what I should be asking you. You’re even more quiet than usual.”
“I’m just writing…” I mumble, closing the book. “You can’t really talk when you’re doing that.”
“What’re you writing about?”
“Hikaru…you’ve not been this standoffish with me since we first met. Even after we made up, you’re still always like this now…”
“Pšyku, I-I’m not trying to be…” I look away from him, and try to ignore him about as much as can be done in his own room.
Suddenly I hear the sound of a chair scraping across the floor, and look up to see him facing me now…
“Is this still about the girl?” he says crossing his arms, and an obviously sad look on his face.
“What does it matter?”
“You need to forget about her.”
“W-What? Alex, it’s…it’s not that easy…”
“Then confess to her.”
“That’s not easy either—!”
“Hikaru!” he rapidly juts forward, raising his voice, “If it’s affecting you this badly you’ve got to do something about it! I can’t just sit here and watch you mope around anymore!”
“Why does it matter…?” I whisper, shrinking away.
“You’re my best friend, I can’t just watch you be like this.”
In return, Alex just puts his hand to his temple and sighs again, and looks out the window at the blinding white. After a moment, he speaks.
“Hey, Hikaru…would you like to go for a walk?”
“In the snow?”
“Why not enjoy the winter? The snow out there is beautiful, right?”
My instinct is to deny him, the ridiculousness of his request—but his bright smile’s too persuasive, even if something feels off about this.
“I guess we can, it might be nice to get out a little…”
For a while Alex and I quietly walk through the snow, only the sound of the white beneath our boots making any noise. He was right…it is quite lovely.
“All right, Hikaru,” Alex says, putting his hand on my shoulder. “Let’s fix this.”
“This mood of yours,” he looks at me and smiles. “We’re going to make you happy again, and we won’t leave until we do!”
“Alex! Do you know how cold it is out here—?!”
“Well of course I do, it’s not like I’m not cold too.”
I place my face into my palms and turn away from him.
“You’re insane, Alex…”
Why do I like you again?! With stuff like this…
But, maybe stuff like this is why.
“Maybe I am, but at least I’m happy! And,” he turns me around to face him, “I want you to be happy too. We don’t have to make you happy right this instant, maybe, but even if you just go talk to someone—”
“All right, I’ll find someone to talk to,” I say to get him off my back.
“I know you’re just saying that to get me to stop, Hikaru.”
Damn it, is it really so obvious?
“Alex, you don’t have to help me, really…there is no helping me.”
“Why are you so convinced of that?” he asks, his face clearly becoming filled with sadness. I…I don’t know how to answer him…
I merely stare into his eyes without any words. I’ve never looked at them so long, so close; they look like the color of honey. It’s like something out of a poem…
“But they won’t…”
“What won’t?” I jump back, realizing I spoke the thought aloud—
“We’re just…always going to be like this now, aren’t we?” he looks away from me. “We’re never going to be close again, are we?”
“No, don’t say that—!” I exclaim in a panic. “Alex, the person I love…it’s…they’re…I can’t bring myself to confess to them, but I can’t stop feeling this way either. It hurts so much, but I…I don’t know what to do…” My heart starts racing faster, higher, to the point it feels like it will jump from my mouth and run far away. I wonder if I should do that myself.
“Hikaru…” Alex says, turning my way again, “You have to be brave. To say something, or move on…you can’t let it devour you forever.”
The piercing cold begins stabbing my face, the newly forming tears only making it more painful. As though I’m not already pathetic and embarrassing enough as it is… It hurts, everything hurts. Outside, inside, my body, my mind—
“Alex,” I mutter, “Do you want me to ‘be brave,’ is that really what you want?”
“Yes?” he says, seemingly confused.
Abruptly I hug him tightly. My limbs become weaker as though they’re withering away completely, and I’ll fall into the snow as a mass of clothes…yet, even so my grip is so tight, even with his size he can’t move away. In spite of myself, I can’t help but breaking down into a mess of tears.
In the cold, he’s so warm, like a fire burning amidst the snow. I try to enjoy it, because I know this will be the only time I ever will…but still, I can’t stop crying.
“…Why are you hugging me?”
“Because it’s you damn it! It’s been you this entire time!”
He chuckles nervously.
I shove him away, and scowl at him.
“You’re…” he breaths, clearly surprised, “…You’re not joking.”
“Are you happy now, Alex?” I whisper, “Now…you know for certain I’m a freak. You’re welcome.”
He merely stares at me.
“Vwa, Alex.” I croak, barely audible.
But I quickly shuffle away before he can finish his sentence. I attempt to look strong, but every step I take feels impossibly heavy. I feel like I’ll be devoured by the snow any minute…but I want to look strong, at least. Even if I feel weaker than ever before.
He doesn’t follow.}
I wake up, but my eye remains closed, a pounding headache reverberates through my head.
Well, at least it’s just this, and I didn’t get sick. Probably.
In spite of that, I still find comfort in the surprising warmth and softness of the ground beneath my head, beside me. It’s never so comfortable; it doesn’t even feel like grass, it feels like—
Rapidly I shoot up, and look behind me to see Suzette looking my way, seemingly a bit startled.
“Ah, ašon bon,” she says.
I try to speak to her, yet every single sound refuses to come out, as the world feels like it’s spinning around me.
“…Hikaru? Is all well?”
“Suzette, did I…do anything last night?”
As I ask this, it feels as though all my insides churn within my skin. I don’t think I vomited from the alcohol—but this might just do it.
“Such as…?” she asks with a look of confusion, before soon realizing what I mean.
“Hikaru,” she says with a slight chuckle, “If you had acted ill, I would not be speaking to you so casually.”
“Well, all right then,” I answer with a sigh of relief. “I’m still sorry, if I made you uncomf—”
“You asked,” she says softly. “Have you not said to me once I need not apologize so often? It is well, I promise,” she says with a distractingly charming smile.
“W-Well then,” I say while getting up, avoiding her gaze out of embarrassment, “I suppose it’s time we continue on.”
“How long shall it be until we arrive in Solzédniê?” she asks while standing up.
“If you consider the outskirts, we may be there by in about three days; maybe two, if we’re fast.”
“If not, then you need a new navigator,” I laugh.
Suddenly, however, I realize something’s missing…
“They had left last night, they told me you would understand.”
“They’re not wrong…” I say, sighing. For a being so old, you would hope they had better manners; but they’re right, I am used to this.
“Well, are you ready?” I ask, looking back to her. Abruptly she shifts her gaze away, although I’m not sure why.
“Yes,” she replies softly, in a strangely different tone from the way she usually speaks.
I can’t tell why, but something seems off—but, maybe it’s not my business to pry.
For a long time, her and I keep walking along with an uncharacteristic silence.
“Suzette, did you enjoy last night?”
“Yes!” she replies enthusiastically this time, “Was it not clear?”
“You’re just very quiet today.”
“Ah, well…” now her voice gains that odd tone again, “J-Just, numerous years have passed since I visited Solzédniê…”
“Are you worried?” I slow down slightly, now putting myself beside her. “If it makes you feel better, I’m sure it has been far longer since I’ve been there.”
To be honest, I’m worried too…the noise, the crowds—if it overwhelmed me so badly when I was young, how much worse is it now all these years later? But if she’s having her own worries too, I won’t add onto that.
“I am not concerned, it is just merely a strange feeling,” she replies. “When I previously visited I was merely a child, accompanied by my relatives; even my brother was still a part of our family at the time. I had hoped he and I may one day visit again, as he made the trip so wonderful—but ah, I suppose it is far too late now.”
“What was he like, your brother? It seems like he was the only relative you enjoyed at all.”
“That is not an incorrect statement,” she says, slightly chuckling. “Of all my family, Florence was the only one with any genuineness or kindness to him…while everyone else found it more agreeable to shutter me away in embarrassment, he truly appeared to love me.”
“Shuttering you away in embarrassment?” I look at her with confusion. I knew she wasn’t close to her family, of course—but embarrassed of her? Even as a child?
“My siblings are much older than I…Florence is some years younger than yourself, while Elise is slightly older,” she says. “All my life, rumors have swirled that I was my father’s bastard child, that it was impossible I could be born of my mother… Though she was not quite past the age of bearing, supposedly odd circumstance transpired around my birth…although I do not know for certain if this is true. All I know is they would rather I not exist at all. Ah, I suppose that is why they were so eager to rid of me…”
“Then…” I begin, “Why were they so insistent on you marrying, doing their will?”
“All the world was well aware I existed—why allow me to embarrass them further?
“Especially considering what my brother had done,” she says, “Our family attempted to be lenient with him, allow him to marry when he wished. But once he grew to be around the age I am now, they grew terribly impatient, and the truth was finally revealed—he had no intention to marry another, and they say he wished to become a tailor instead. And so, he went far away, beyond where anyone would find him. So then began their determination to not allow me to become the same.
“Even if I am short and plain, and likely illegitimate, their oldest son had embarrassed them so terribly…it would only be more dreadful for the already shameful child to become even worse, yes?” Her voice begins cracking, shaking… “A part of me hoped they would not hold such things against me when I became a women and a wife…ah, how ignorant I was…!”
She continues forward still, but more slowly now, nearly coming to a stop. Her arms are crossed over her chest, and although she’s looking down, even from here I can see tears roll down her face…
I knew it must hurt her, be I didn’t realize just to what extent—or maybe she didn’t know either.
“And alas, now,” she mumbles, “The only one who appeared to love me wholly, unconditionally…he said he would send letters, and yet…he never did…he had left me all alone…”
“I know I’m not your family,” I say while putting my hand on her shoulder, “But, you’re not alone, Suzette.”
We both stop, and silence slips between us. She buries her head into by side, and I can’t help but stroke her thick, wavy her. To my surprise she pulls me into a tight hug, her hands gripping at my back.
“Words cannot express how dearly I appreciate this…” she whispers. “Out of all in the world, I am most grateful to have met you, Hikaru…”
I stand paralyzed, not at all sure at how to react to her words beyond a deep aching in my soul that’s impossible to articulate.
“Well, I hope I’m not a disappointment then.”
She merely chuckles at this and pulls away from me.
I nod with a slight smile, and we continue on without another word.
Yes, something is definitely different between us… Is it because of last night? Clearly nothing ill happened, but—
“Suzette,” I ask after a time, “What…happened last night?”
“Hmm?” She looks up towards me. “How much do you remember?”
“I think I vaguely remember us dancing together—” I begin, although saying it aloud, it truly does sound more like a dream than reality, “And everything after that is a blur.”
“We merely spoke to one another, socialized with the faeries, drank mead…nothing particularly out of the ordinary, I believe. Well, aside from the strangeness of being the only humans in a gathering of faeries, I suppose…”
“Did I say anything odd?”
“…Such as?” She looks towards me with an increasingly confused look. “Have I not told expressed clearly enough that have done nothing ill, Hikaru? Why are you so terribly worried?”
“You have, it’s just—don’t mean something wrong necessarily, I mean…” I sigh. “You seem different today.”
“…Perhaps it is the remnants of the alcohol. Do forgive me…”
“No, you’re fine. You’ve not done anything ill either.”
She nods, and we continue on our way.
Occasionally I glance down at her as we walk; normally she follows behind me, but for now she continues on by my side. By my side—I want to sigh, but then she would know something really is wrong. Something I can’t bring myself to explain to her.
It’s almost funny, you would think having a constant companion on your travels would lessen any time for thinking—if only that was the case. I guess neither of us are so talkative that this would be the case, though. Really, her presence seems to have the opposite effect: when there is silence between us, just her being here tends to make me think even more. About her. About us…
Even though we’ve known each other for five or six years, I still find myself constantly confounded at how I ever met someone like her. To be so lovely and gentled-hearted even towards someone like me, to save me when I know most would be well happy letting me rot. To be so talented, with her passion radiating from her soul as brightly as a dozen Suns; and through this, she almost innocently clings to her dreams of youth, in spite of society’s endless attempts to snuff out her light.
Someone as wonderful as her deserves to be a noble woman, at least in the sense of living a life of luxury and ease—and yet here she is, pursuing the simple path of a baker with the same vigor of someone trying to wed the king. Something about that, about her very soul is bewitchingly beautiful…
I wish I could pull close and protect her from all that is cruel, all that is disgusting, watch her flourish making the sweets she so often dreams of. But…she can never know this. She doesn’t deserve to ever be uncomfortable, and I know that’s all this would bring—I know it’s just in her nature to be so kind, but it’s nothing like this.
I can’t drink anymore, not until we part ways. I can’t risk her discovering this, it’s just too anxiety inducing. It’s better to remain sober, to continue on as though the truth isn’t constantly resonating in my head even in spite of the past, in spite of Maiden Moon’s clear dissatisfaction with it…
I look down towards her, a knot tying in my chest. Of the millions of people in the world, why did it have to be you that found me, Suzette? Usually I accept my fate well enough, but you make it almost impossible—I’m not young, successful, wealthy, handsome, anything that could even become close of being worthy of you. I’m merely a strange, damned man.
And still, you’re here.
For now, the only thing I really want is to speak those five, small words—
Lêm sâ tsiâ né, Suzette.
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