~Suzette ✧ Chapter XIX~
Hikaru and I continue along peacefully for the remainder of the day. Occasionally we must detour when the crowds grow to be a little too hectic, but on the whole the journey is pleasant…if a tad lonely. Though he and I often spend long bouts in silence, rarely do we ever go so long without muttering even a single word to one another. Although that is unfortunate, being so close to him, holding him…I decide to appreciate this instead.
While there is still some daylight left, with the Solstice being so recent, all the world still can see the time is growing late. The streets steadily become clearer, with only a few walking down the road.
And at this, at last, Hikaru takes off his hat, and my napkin with it.
“Here you go,” he says while handing the napkin to me.
“Are you certain you shall not need it for the rest of the journey?”
“I’ll ask you if I do. But even just for this, mâzjêr né.”
“No need,” I reply. For a moment, he looks around at the buildings around us, colorful if not the most well kempt. Nearby there are a few crude signs signifying the entry to the alleyways, the small roads too cramped to put even a moderately sized cart through.
“Are you hungry, Suzette?”
“…Terribly,” I mutter. I did not wish to say anything, for I know standing still at a stall or going into an establishment would surely be uncomfortable for him. Yet now…
“There is an inn I know nearby that we can eat at too, if you are willing…if it’s still there, at least.”
“I thought you had lived in one of the inner districts?”
“I did, but during the quiet hours, when few people were out, I’d slip away into the Asàshían district.”
I glance up at him, a tad puzzled. “Asàshían district? Do all the Asàshíans of the city live there?”
“Not quite,” he says, “But many of them do, and they try to make it as much like their home as they’re able.
“There’s one inn in particular I especially liked visiting; the family was always kind to me, in spite of everything; and—at least, from what I could recall then—it really was like being in Asàshí again. One of the few good memories I have of this place…”
“Where is it? I would love to go!”
He smiles that same gentle smile as always.
“I don’t remember, aside from the Asàshían district…”
“Well then, we should see if we may find it, yes?”
“I’d like that,” he replies, and we continue along. Although he no longer wears my napkin, and thus no longer do we need to guide one another—still, as though like magnets, our hands clutch together tightly as we go along the road.
“My,” I begin, “I did not know there was an Asàshían district at all…why so?”
“Well, even if I deal with extra struggles most of them do not, that doesn’t mean they’re particularly accepted either. It’s easier to live by people more like you.”
“Then, why make such a long and arduous journey, to go somewhere where you are…”
“The same reason my mother came here—pure desperation. Sometimes you don’t get much of a choice.”
“I suppose that is logical,” I sigh.
Although it seems confusing at first, perhaps I am not entirely different…leaving luxury and prestige, to travel an immense amount and sleep on the ground, all in want of freedom. Thinking of that however, I do feel rather grateful—I have not needed to flee the continent entirely.
It is not long before we turn into a cramped alley, and the change in scenery is noticeable. Although the buildings largely appear the same as any other place in the city, the signs suddenly switch to the elegant, swirling Asàshían script. As I look about us, I notice other small details are different as well, such as the colorful lanterns upon some doors, interesting artwork and menu illustrations in the windows of some businesses; yet, before I may look too deeply at any one thing—
“Why…it really is still here. I can’t believe it.”
“Oh, which is it—?”
“You see that sign, with the Sun on it? That one; it’s called Rèzhóu Déiyì, or First Dawn.”
“Can you read that?”
“Not at all, but I can remember that at least.”
I chuckle; not just at this, but the last time we entered an establishment with an affinity for the Sun, he was extremely hesitant to go…yet now, he is the one taking me.
Once we come closer, I notice something odd: the sign does not lead to a door, at least not in the traditional sense; yet rather, it leads to a damp, cramped staircase, with only a dim, red light descending down it.
“Yes…it’s almost like it hasn’t changed at all.”
I gaze up to him who is looking up the staircase, his eye fixated on the top.
Thinking upon it, it does not appear that much we have done has truly excited him…any and every stop we have made, every little luxury we have found—it has all been for my sake. Now, while I am certain this is also for my own sake as well, it is largely for his own: the rekindling of an old, warm memory. For a moment, I feel slightly guilty…I hope that we may do more things which he enjoys as well.
For now I simply grin as, for the present moment, that is precisely what we are doing.
We reach the top of the staircase, and we reach the single square, red paper lantern that alights the tight doorway, giving the stairwell its comforting, warm glow. Painted in red on the door once more is, I presume, the name of this inn.
Hikaru grabs the handle, and then…pauses. And stays still.
“Shall we go in?” I say, subtly attempting to nudge him along.
“It’s…been a long time. I doubt anybody I knew here is still around. I…I have surely changed a lot too.”
“Are you worried, Hikaru?” I inquire softly.
“I remember when I came here, it was the only place in this city I felt I belonged, even if it was only slightly. Even though I don’t quite belong even with Asàshíans, the family here was always kind to me…I wonder if I want to ruin the remains of those memories.”
“Or, you may create one more pleasant memory.”
He looks down to me, and I smile in return.
“Also…I have never eaten Asàshían food, nor seen their furniture, or anything of the sort—and it is doubtful I will ever be able to travel there. If anyone shall show that to me, why not yourself?”
His face turns almost as red as the lantern.
“All right then,” he replies, “I suppose it is worth at least seeing.”
With this, he slowly opens the door.
As we walk in, I am immediately struck by the scent of what I presume to be food, yet it is nothing like what I have ever eaten. The inner atmosphere quite resembles the outer, cozy and warm…
The light wall is paneled with a dark wood, same as the floor, while white and red lanterns line the wall, alighting the entire establishment with a gentle glow. There are only a few tables in the small space—extremely low tables, and instead of chairs, colorful cushions sit by them instead. At one table sits a handful of people, eating and talking together. At the edge of the room is a staircase presumably leading to the bedrooms, and a door presumably leading to the kitchen.
Nearly immediately, a man with short hair and simple green robes exits the kitchen. Although his outfit is rather more plain, it is clearly of a similar inspiration as Hikaru’s own clothing.
“Hello, please feel free—” Abruptly the man stops and blinks. My muscles swiftly grow tense…
Oh dear, were Hikaru’s fears truly founded once more…?
Yet instead, the young man smiles.
“It’s, what was your name…” he pauses for a moment, thinking deeply, “Hikaru, was it? Is that you?”
Hikaru stares at him for a moment, with a look that both bears relief and confusion.
“…It seems you remember me, but I don’t remember you at all.”
“I’m Huan, remember?”
“Oh!” he laughs, but simultaneously his face grows quite red once more. “Well…now I feel rather old.”
“Suzette,” Hikaru turns to me, “He’s the child of the owners here. At least…he was a child when I last knew him.”
“Well…” Huan grows a pained expression on his face, “I was the child of the owners…but I’m the owner now. They’ve, well…”
“Ah…” Hikaru says, “I’m sorry to hear that…”
For a little while longer the two continue speaking, and I gaze on in amazement. They talk quite normally; indeed, precisely as you would expect someone to after meeting another they had not seen in a very long time. Never have I witnessed Hikaru speak with an actual human with such ease, aside from perhaps myself and Alex…
I wonder if someday we could always be like this with others, him and I…it is a nice thought.
It is not long, however, before their conversation catches my attention once more.
“You never did bring that friend of yours here…what was his name?”
Though I attempt not to be too obvious concerning it, I rapidly turn towards Hikaru. His expression remains surprisingly stoic, only merely furrowing his brow slightly.
“I’m surprised you didn’t hear…he passed almost thirty years ago.”
“Damn…I remember how close you two were, you used to always talk about him. I guess a lot has changed…”
“Well…there’s nothing to do about it now.”
In a way…you truly have brought him here, have you not?
I sigh…of course that is the truth, yet I can never reveal it so. At least, certainly not presently.
The two continue conversing for a little while longer, before we are at last seated at a small table in the far corner. Unlike the inn on the outskirts of the city, this one is rather comfortable and quiet…I can see why he enjoyed coming here. This does appear to be the sort of place he would feel more welcome within.
Once more I allow him to order, for surely he shall know what everything is better than I. Thankfully, this time I feel much more at ease. Even if I still do not quite fit in with others here either, at least it is much more peaceful and pleasant regardless.
“Is everything as you recalled?”
“Precisely,” he says, still wearing a smile.
We sit for a little while longer, although this time he remains terribly quiet, perhaps even more so than usual…
“Is everything truly well?”
He ignores me…not a promising sign.
“Hikaru,” I whisper while putting my hand on his, and he jumps slightly.
“Y-Yes?” he mutters.
“You look distant again. Is even here still—”
“No, I’m not overwhelmed or anything,” he sighs. “Just thinking about…some things.”
“Al—” I begin, but instantly cease speaking.
“Yeah,” he replies. “I…completely forgot I ever promised to bring him here. It’s strange, I thought I remembered…more than it seems I have.”
“He died almost thirty years ago, you said…that is quite a long time.”
Longer than I even know, in my own memories…
“You’re right, just,” he sighs once more. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter now. Regardless—it is nice to return to one of the few places here I actually enjoyed.”
It is not long before Huan comes out again, bringing with him two large bowls of noodles, steaming and full of various kind of vegetables, and—
“An egg…?” I mumble once he has left again.
“Oh, I forgot it’s not really common for Soléiâns to eat eggs with noodles, huh?”
“Do you do that often?”
“I would if I cooked with more than two ingredients,” he says with a laugh. “So, I suppose I used to.”
“Maybe someday when you have a home again—”
I stop, realizing what I am saying…
“I probably never will,” he says, still smiling; yet by now I have noticed how often he uses this to hide his true feelings… “Being a wanderer isn’t always bad, though.”
“What shall you do once you grow older?”
He pauses, and looks down. He blows upon his soup and begins to eat his dinner, and I begin to wonder if he intends to answer me at all…yet after a moment, he speaks once more.
“I try not to think of that.”
“If you ever need a place to stay, you are always welcome to stay with me.”
“You don’t have—”
“We have been traveling with one another for months now, and you have already done so much for me—and all of this is so that I might have what is surely the majority of your wealth…please, Hikaru. You are always welcome.”
“Mâzjêr,” he says with a smile, and this time it appears more genuine.
I begin eating as well and…it is very odd, at first. Almost nothing here is particularly foreign, as surely most exotic plants may be only accessible to the aristocracy and royalty alone…however, never have I quite had these ingredients prepared in such a fashion. An egg and noodles, celery and mint, and other ingredients besides—the more I have, however, the more I find myself enjoying it. In fact, it is truly delicious.
Though this is a pleasant experience overall…unfortunately, his silence is deafening. Occasionally, I sincerely wish I was as ignorant on these matters as he believes me to be…although perhaps it is truly better this way. At least I am certain he is not upset with me, only the path fate has weaved.
“Is there anything you two need?” Huan asks, returning seemingly out of nowhere.
“I am well!” I reply.
“Can we get a room for tonight?”
“A room? My, that’s a first for you!”
“Well, I don’t live here anymore…”
They continue conversing, sorting out our arrangements for the evening. Once we are entirely finished, Huan leads us up the staircase. It is immensely small and cramped, so much so I cannot walk through without grazing the edge of both walls…
Upstairs, there is a small hallway with only a handful of doors, one which Huan leads us to, and gives us the key.
“Do have a good night!”
“You as well!” Hikaru and I both reply in unison. I cannot help but chuckle at it.
As soon as we walk in, Hikaru whispers a short incantation, and the lanterns alight immediately. I suppose even in the largest city in Soléiâ, and possibly all the world, faeries still live here…
Once everything is illuminated, I notice how…sparse everything is. Within this room is another low table and a simple dresser, both made of a dark wood. A scroll on the wall bears text I cannot read, and below it is an image of the Sun with a butterfly fluttering around it, clearly a devotional image to that most famous goddess. But more strange than anything that is present, is what is missing—
“There is no bed?”
“It’s in here,” Hikaru says, sitting down and opening the dresser. Within the bottom drawer is a thin mattress folded up, like a thicker version of his thin bed roll.
“I remember this from when I was a child…our beds were also like this.”
“Does everything merely sit on the ground in Asàshí…?”
“I think everything sits on the ground everywhere. Well, except the Sun and Moon, and the clouds and Stars, perhaps. Sometimes birds—”
“You know that is not what I mean—!” I reply, and he laughs.
“In all seriousness,” he says, “I don’t think every place was like this. But it wasn’t uncommon.”
“I see…” I answer as he lays the bed out.
“Is this the only one?”
He waits a moment, and sighs.
“Unfortunately. But it’s okay, I don’t mind sleeping on the floor. I’ve done it enough over the years.”
“And that is why I shall be sleeping there, you should at least get the bed once. You did not sleep in it the last time we stayed at an inn either…”
“I refuse,” he says.
“And so do I.”
For a moment we stare at each other, unblinking and unceasing. At last, he turns around and sighs.
“Well, it appears there’s two blankets in here, so, would you want…?”
The thought crossed my mind, yet I dare not say it; however, shall he offer it—
“I do not mind at all.”
Although it is not as late as we tend to stay awake, the day’s events have entirely depleted my energy, and I know it must surely be the same for him. I take off my apron and dress, folding them neatly upon the dresser, and he does likewise with his outer jacket, keeping his lower robe on. Myself on one side, and him on the other, we go into the bed, and the lights are swiftly blown out…
Although it is of course a bit flat, compared to our normal arrangements, it is sincerely heavenly. So soft, and warm… The only unfortunate thing is…truthfully, I wish I could come closer to him, and be even warmer…but of course, I cannot. It would be terribly uncomfortable for everyone involved…
I lay flat with my hands folded upon myself, looking to the ceiling. Steadily, I lose consciousness…
“Suzette, are you awake?”
“Nnn…yes,” I mumble, turning over to face him, who is still gazing upon the ceiling himself. I lay on the side of him that is normally hidden beneath his hair; but for now, it is pushed back, revealing his face…just like the night of the Solstice, his scar is open for all the world to see.
“Why do you bother with me?” he asks in a hoarse whisper.
“Hikaru, is this about this morning?”
“Yes and no. It’s about more than that as well.”
“I-I quite like you, you are not a bother at all,” I say, carefully attempting to choose my words. Yet, I am still unsure if they hint to the full extent of their meaning…
“But…even if you know so much about me, there’s still much you don’t know.”
“I could say the same,” I reply.
He lifts himself, sitting upwards, and places his hands in his lap.
“Suzette…for some things I can really only share so much with you, and in others…I can share, but I wonder if you will come to hate me then.”
“And why is that?”
Now I sit up beside him, and gaze upon him. A faint sliver of moonlight shines in through the window, alighting his rather miserable looking face…
“I…I think I must tell you something,” he says, facing me. He appears positively distressed. “And if what I tell you is so horrible to you…well, perhaps there’s something for you here, in Solzédniê. It is incredibly difficult, but perhaps still worth trying, if that’s what you want.”
My heartbeat begins to drum frantically…what is so wretched about him that he feels the need to speak in this manner with me?
For a moment he gazes away from myself, heaving a heavy sigh. Then he returns, biting his lip.
“Suzette, I…I think you’ve noticed I’ve been talking more about Alex lately.”
“Yes, a little.”
“He and I…we both moved here together when we were rather young. It was only him and I, facing the world…”
Is he telling me…?
No, no, of course it is not. Seeing how he reacted both as a child, and his conspicuous silence concerning Alex during normal circumstances… With as secretive as he can be, revealing what is surely one of his largest secrets would be—
“I’m sure it will sound ridiculous to you, or perhaps disgusting, but—at least some of what you’ve heard about him is a lie,” he whispers.
“That house we’re traveling to,” he continues, “It was never my house. It was his, that he bought when we left Solzédniê…no, it was ours. That’s why all his belongings are still there; he never visited me, he never had to.”
Gazing to me, his eye holds a deep sorrow. He wears that familiar, sad smile in an attempt to mask it. Yet from the corner of my eye, I notice it…his hands tightly wound around one another, subtly shaking.
He truly is—
“Alex was my friend, my dearest one in the world, but also…
“Maybe…no, we were too young for me to really call him my husband,” he whispers even more softly now, the words scarcely coming out. “But that’s how we viewed one another, without question… I know what the rest of the world believes, that we were sinful, spitting in the face of the gods. Sometimes even I wonder if they were right—but even still, I don’t know how to look at what we had and view it as anything other than a ray of shining light.
“O-Of course,” his voice shivers slightly, “You don’t have to agree. I don’t expect you to. But I guess…I felt like you should know, if we’re to keep journeying together.”
Soon, his face is bathed in confusion.
“Suzette…why are you crying? Well, I guess—”
But before he can finish speaking, I pull him into a tight hug.
You told me…you told me!
Of course, I already knew this secret…yet I never imagined—I never imagined you may ever trust me enough to share. Even if you are not “in love” with me, you still love me enough, trust me enough…!
I hold him for a moment longer, trying to gather what to say.
“Mâzjêr vrémond né, Hikaru,” I whisper in his ear.
“That you trust me enough to share this…”
“I just…think you have a right to know.”
“Yet, would you share this if you were entirely certain I would reject you, like you appear so convinced all the world has? Would you overcome your fear if there was not at least some chance it may turn out as you wish?”
He does not say anything.
“I struggle to imagine you ever being disgusting, Hikaru.”
“You’re not upset?”
“Not even the slightest bit,” I reply. “You are my dearest friend, and if you wish to change that you must try a lot harder than this.”
For a moment, it seems his breathing stops entirely.
“Suzette…” he breathes, and then reciprocates my hug. “Just…mâzjêr, thank you. Thank you…”
“But…I have not done anything.”
He pulls away from me, and smiles warmly, so warmly…
“You say that as though you have not already done everything.”
I look away as a shiver flows down my spine.
D-Does he know…?
But, I do not say anything. My mind begins racing, all the thoughts utterly trampling upon themselves.
He only prefers men, yes? He cannot be in love with me—yet what if that is not the case, what if it is possible—what if, what if—?
I pause for a moment, attempting to gather my thoughts once more.
“Hikaru, please do not take this badly, yet is that why you carry yourself a bit more…womanly than other men?”
He gives that upset smile yet again, and suddenly I regret asking…
“Well…I’m not trying to look that way, but I guess I can’t help if it seems that way to others.”
“Even with your hair? I understand your clothing, yet I have always been curious…”
“You really want to know why?”
“When I first began wandering, I grew very depressed…I didn’t even have the will to cut my own hair, to do much of anything besides walk to nowhere. When that subsided, though, I realized—it was nice to have something that had given me so much grief become something beautiful. So I kept growing it out.”
“Even to such a great length?”
“I found—found the fae, and my other abilities, before it grew to be too long; since it’s not as difficult to care for as it would be for others, well…why not?”
“Ah, I see…”
For a moment we sit in silence. He gazes down to his hands, once more clasped, although quite luckily still.
“Do you think it looks bad?”
“Why does it matter?” I gaze towards him, but his look towards me says everything.
“So…it does, then.”
“I did not say that, it is just…is it my place to say?”
Why does my opinion matter to him so much?
No, stop thinking such things…
“I was just wondering, is all.”
“When I first realized you are a man,” I begin, “It appeared odd to me…yet now I have grown rather fond of it.”
“Do you just say that to be kind?”
“If I was hoping to be merely kind, I would have never stated my first feelings,” I reply.
“Truthfully…” I pause, wondering if I should speak my feelings aloud. And yet—
“Before I realized you were a man, my very first impression was that it was stunningly beautiful, ethereally long and shining…I had never seen a woman with hair so lovely. The only reason I ever thought it strange was…I was simply being prejudiced, I suppose. Sâ pšyku, Hikaru…”
“You don’t need to apologize, Suzette. Actually…I appreciate that.”
“Y-You are welcome,” I reply, stuttering, looking away. “Although, there is no need…”
It becomes difficult to speak, as my mind begins buzzing with a singular, persistent thought:
Ask him. Ask him, Suzette.
“Hikaru…d-do you only like men?”
“I-I do not know how all of that works, so I was…just curious…” My voice shakes terribly; it is so embarrassing, yet I am so nervous, I cannot help it…
“Hmm…I thought I did, for a long time.”
“You thought you did…” I repeat under my breath.
“Yeah, I guess because Alex was the only one I ever loved, I assumed I could only love men…although now, I realize I don’t really mind either way. Who I love is who I love, regardless.”
“Ah, I had just assumed—well, since I only love men, I did not know if one could truly love both or not…”
“Yeah, I believe it’s different for everyone. Although most like me tend to hide it…”
“Thank you for not hiding it with me, Hikaru.”
“It’s no problem, I suppose,” he says gently. “But, I think it’s getting pretty late now.”
“I believe you are right…somêl amé, Hikaru.”
“Tsiâ mo, Suzette.”
The two of us lay down once more on the opposite ends of the bed.
I huddle the blanket, tightly wrapping myself within it.
“Who I love is who I love, regardless.”
Who do you love? Who do you love, Hikaru…?
The thoughts swirl and twirl within me as I drift off to sleep…
☽O☾Lovingly created by [James Margaret Rose].