~Hikaru ✧ Chapter XXIV~
“I’m proud of you, Hikaru.
“Yes, perhaps it is painful right now, yet you have done the right thing. Not becoming one of the disgusting men who only tell sweet lies, you’ve stayed true to your love…I knew you were strong enough, Hikaru.”
I continue walking as dusk rots into night, biting my lip all the while. Ever since we left Solzédniê, my peace has been destroyed; now, I am cursed with even more incessant noise.
The warnings of Suzette’s “true nature,” that I’m going to shatter Alex’s heart—that I am on the verge of no return, becoming a truly damned, disgusting, lonely old man…
I’ve beat my temptation, tempered my lust…for what?
According to her, this makes me strong. I’ve done the correct thing. But…I have never felt so dirty and weak in my entire existence. I have felt many varieties of self-loathing—but I’m unsure if anything even remotely compares to this.
Through my thoughts, I notice once more the sound of footsteps, quiet on the grassy plain. The pair that isn’t mine.
All I can think about is her—the site of her face, flushing darkly; her eyes a deep red, tears falling like rain, sorrow and confusion at my sudden change in disposition. A scene not unlike when we left Solzédniê.
But this time, it was not that cruel sister of hers which caused it…it was me. Myself alone. My fears, Maiden Moon’s cruel whispers at all hours of the day—everything taken out on her. Taking the shards of my heart, and ripping it straight into hers instead.
“Why are you crying, Hikaru?”
You should know why, I answer internally. But I speak nothing aloud, for Suzette is still awake, we are still walking…
I sigh as a thought crosses through my mind—it would be incredibly easy to stop and give my bag to Suzette so that she may have all within it, and recite one final spell to myself. It would be terribly easy for the fae to ignite me, and scatter my ashes in the wind. All of this can be over, and I don’t have to deal with Maiden Moon, Suzette doesn’t have to deal with me—
“I would like to stop for the night,” Suzette states suddenly. “I am growing tired.”
And so the two of us find a spot in the grass, wordlessly preparing ourselves for sleep.
“Somêl amé, Suzette.”
I wait and wait, hoping in vain that perhaps she’ll say something; but instead, I hear the sound of quiet snoring. My heart sinks…
I get up, my body sore and weary, and begin to haphazardly walk. Although it is not particularly far, my lack of strength makes it feel like a mile.
Without even having to speak, the moonlight coalesces in front of me, forming the figure I’ve come to see.
“I know it is difficult Hikaru, but you should be elated.”
“This isn’t what Alex would have wanted,” I whisper.
She rolls her eyes.
“Do you think he would want you betraying him for some little whore?”
My hands grip into fists.
“I think he would want me happy, to find joy even after he’s gone. And,” I growl, “Don’t you dare refer to her that way.”
“What else would you call it, then?”
“If she’s a whore, then why would she desire someone with nothing to give, beyond what I’m giving her regardless?”
“But look at what you are giving her—what you’ve already given her,” she scowls. You pamper her like those royals do with their precious little mutts; why wouldn’t she try to—"
“You know that’s all shit, Moon.”
“Oh, have we returned to disrespecting me?” she sighs. “Women like her love nothing more than to string along weak, vulnerable men like you.”
“She has never once, in any capacity at all, shown herself to be that way. You know this. You have to know this.”
She sighs, looking “concerned”…but I know it’s all an act.
“How sad it is, how she has blinded you—"
“I’ve noticed the signs,” I interrupt her.
“What signs? I have no idea what you’re referring to.”
“She was Alex, wasn’t she?”
“What?! What on Earth are you prattling on about?”
“The way Chêne confused us, her almost exactly quoting what Alex has said to me, the sudden onset of the dreams—”
“You’re just saying that to justify your lust!” she mutters through gritted teeth, clearly trying and failing to keep her composure.
“And since when are you one to lecture anybody on lust, Moon? Abandoning all the world just to pursue one person? You’re so pure, yes, to abandon all of humanity for one single person?!”
“I told you that’s not—!”
“And even if she isn’t Alex, I don’t give a fuck anymore. But surely you’ve noticed too?”
Now she glares at me with a face so distorted by rage, she resembles a creature of the night that they warn about in faerie tales, more than…herself.
“What are you saying, Hikaru? Are you really going to embrace ruin?” she cries, her voice becoming shrill.
Slowly, my hand reaches for the necklace.
“Wait—!” she exclaims, rushing towards me, grabbing and shaking me with both arms. “You’re all I have, please don’t do this, don’t, plea—”
“I’m not in love with you…but you know I do love you, right, Maiden Moon?”
She stops and stares down to me, violet eyes overflowing with glistening tears.
“Don’t…don’t mock me, Hikaru.”
“I’m not,” I whisper softly, putting my hand on her shoulder.
“Then why,” she hisses, “Are you abandoning me for her if you love me?”
“I’m not abandoning you.”
“You’re going to take off that necklace and never put it back on,” she spits. “You’re going to throw it in a lake, never to be seen again.”
“No I’m not. I’m taking it off for a few days…so we can have peace.”
“So you can have peace away from me.”
I pause. I can’t say she’s necessarily wrong.
“With the way you’ve treated me lately…yes. I do want peace from you.”
“I’m only trying to help you.”
“You’re trying to own me. You think because I’m your priest, I’m a doll for you to do with whatever you please.”
She slightly frowns and gazes away, saying nothing.
“Do you truly, sincerely believe your love for a pretty little noblewoman could be pure?”
“Yes,” I answer without hesitation.
“…Well, that was fast,” she mumbles, looking away.
“If I loved her for my own selfish reasons, I imagine I’d try to do whatever I can to ‘catch’ her, to make her mine—”
“Is that not what you do? Constantly buying her shit, being so ‘nice,’ giving her damn near all you own?”
“I do that because I love her. I’ve not expected anything in return.”
Maiden Moon crosses her arms, and huffs.
“And besides,” I add, “If I just wanted a fair face, someone to make me feel young…I would probably go after a man. You know better than anyone that’s usually been my preference.”
She grimaces, face growing red.
“…Unfortunately,” she whispers, strained.
“Is this…a personal matter?” I ask, and she looks down towards me.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you take it personally that I fell in love with a woman who isn’t you? Do you think it is because of you personally?”
“Please, Hikaru,” she rolls her eyes, “I’m a goddess. Why would I feel threatened by a human, especially one like her?”
“That’s what you always say, always extolling that you’re a goddess. But you never mention any other good qualities about yourself. You never say you’re beautiful, or kind—”
“…Do you believe I’m those things?”
“Well, I’d hardly call you kind as of late. But you have been before.”
From the corner of my eye, I notice her wings, normally open wide, come down, closing in on themselves.
“Besides,” I say, “I…I don’t understand why you seem to think I’m so special. I’m truly not, I promise.”
“That’s not true Mai—” she stops, her eyes suddenly so large, it’s as though they might fall out.
“…I’m not Maia, Maiden Moon.”
“You are…quite like her in more ways than you realize. Far more,” she whispers, looking in the distance. “And she left me too, all for some eunuch—a eunuch, over a goddess—!”
“Maiden Moon,” I whisper, gripping her shoulder a little tighter. She instantly quiets.
“I’m not the only person there is. And you practically have all the time in the world…it’s not too late for you.”
“Not with this fucking curse.”
“And you know I can’t cure it,” I say. “Even if I submit to you, one day I’m still going to die. I’m sure I have far less years ahead of me than behind.”
“…What?” she whispers, raising her eyebrows. “You’ve scarcely been here for the blink of an eye.”
“You know humans don’t live long. If I’m halfway through my life, I’ll die a very old man. Although with the difficulties I’ve faced…I’m lucky to even have been alive for this long.”
“Don’t say that…”
“But it’s true, and you know it’s true.”
Slowly, softly, I pull her into a hug.
“Why do you insist on mocking me?” she asks flatly.
“I’m not,” I gently say. “I want you to know I’m not abandoning you. We need time away from one another…but I’m not going to abandon you. I’m never going to abandon you.”
“What if she told you to?” she whispers.
“She won’t. She said before…she doesn’t mind if I’m a priest.”
“I don’t believe her.”
“You can’t let your paranoia and insecurities control you. And…I guess I can’t let them control me either. Yours, or mine.”
She stays silent.
“I’m not in love with you…but I still want us to be close, Moony.” She grips me a little tighter. “Can you live with that?”
For a long while she keeps her silence, and I wonder if she intends to reply at all.
“Well, it’s not as though I have much choice,” she whispers unenthusiastically. “But,” she begins, pulling away from me, “Please…tell me why I lost.”
“Why you lost?”
“First Maia, then you—how can I not be paranoid, as you say, when I am constantly losing to random humans?”
“It’s not a competition in the first place. Love doesn’t work that way.”
“I beg to differ,” she looks away. “I’ve lived very long, Hikaru. I have seen it all, from the dawn of human days—women adorning themselves to become the most beautiful to attract the most desirable partner. Men scrambling to rise to as high a position as possible, so that others will look at them admirably. Would you not say this is a competition?”
“Would you call that love?” I reply, “By your own definition, I’ve nothing to offer. You should want nothing to do with me…especially me.”
She furrows her brow and remains silent. I wait a long while for her to respond, but she doesn’t. I try studying her, wondering what she could possibly be thinking; but, I discern nothing.
“Can we still be amicable, you and I?” I ask after a while and extend my hand to her. “Can we still be close, even if I love Suzette? Besides…you know as well as I that’s unlikely to go anywhere.”
Now she gazes at me with a look of great sorrow, with tears forming at the corner of her eyes…
“Gods,” she says with a mirthless chuckle, “You’re truly the biggest fool I’ve ever met.”
With this, she slowly grasps and shakes my hand.
“I suppose I can accept it, if you should will it,” she replies. I smile in return…although her expression remains less than joyful.
“I’m going to go now,” I say while bringing my hand to the necklace. “Please forgive me.”
“You warned me,” she sighs. “Nykhte bon, Hikaru. Or…however long it is until we meet again.”
“It shouldn’t be long,” I reassure her. “A break should refresh both of us.”
She nods in return, but that’s all. I take off the necklace slowly, hoping she’ll respond further, but she doesn’t. She merely dissolves back into the air.
I look down at the necklace and sigh. All the anguish this thing has caused—I almost wish I could just leave it within my bag for the rest of my days. But, even in spite of everything, I can’t bring myself to abandon her entirely. It’s true. Even with everything, I still love her—not as a lover, no…but I still wish she’d remain my friend. I wish things could become like they once were, before I ever made my mistake. I can only hope.
But with Suzette… Even if it was only a moment—it only takes a few sparks for a home to envelop in flames and become nothing. Will there be a home to return to, or nothing but ashes?
I gently put the necklace away and continue on.
“Sâlêzj, Suzette,” I greet as she slowly arises, the Sun barely arisen on the horizon.
“Oh…ašon bon,” she mumbles, rubbing her eyes. And then for seemingly ages she glares at me, silently.
“Uh, please do not take this the wrong way…” she begins, “Yet…you look positively horrid. Did you not sleep well last night?”
“No, not particularly,” I say while trying to hold back a yawn. I don’t have it within me to tell her I didn’t sleep at all. Too many thoughts swirled within for that.
“I see,” she says softly, looking away.
“Suzette,” I start abruptly, “I…I apologize. For last night.”
“It is well—”
“It’s not, Suzette. I’m not going to leave you. Unless you want me to, at least.”
Suddenly, it is as though her eyes begin to sparkle…somehow, that hurts even worse.
“No, I’ve just…” I put my hand to my face and sigh. “Ever since we left Solzédniê, I’ve been…I’ve just not been doing well. It wasn’t right to take it out on you.”
“Why did you not say something?” she replies softly, “Always saying you cannot tell this, nor that, yet…”
Gently she places her hand around my own…
“Surely you understand you can trust me by now, yes? You need not suffer alone…”
“I know that…unfortunately, trust has very little to do with it,” I smile weakly, but her face only seems to become more sad in response.
“Is it…” she begins, but her voice trails off. “Never mind. I know you cannot say either way…”
“You can still ask. If I can’t tell you, I’ll tell you so.”
“Well then,” she sighs, “Is it…that Moon goddess? Is she the one doing this to you?”
I brace myself for the barrage of yelling, insults, so loud as to make my head pound with pain.
But it doesn’t come. I’m not wearing the necklace…she isn’t here. She has no idea what I’m doing.
I look down, and stare Suzette straight in the eyes. Even if I don’t like to do it…this is serious.
“Promise me you’ll never speak of this to anybody—friends or family, please don’t even speak of this to me again. I will tell you…but please pretend like I never did.”
“Then…it is her.”
“Hikaru…” she sighs, looking away, “You…you are a tad poor at keeping secrets. Whenever anyone spoke of her, spoke of you being a priest, you always acted rather queerly…”
“…Pšyku,” I mutter, glancing away from her.
“It is well, yet it is good to know for the future. If you truly want this to remain a secret.”
I merely nod silently.
“But…mâzjêr vrémond né,” she says after a moment.
“What for?” I ask, looking down to her smiling sweetly.
“You told me…” she replies softly, smiling ever wider as the words escape her lips. “You truly trust me after all.”
“Of course I do, it’s just…” I sigh, “She always barrages me. She doesn’t want anyone to know, she’s afraid of what will happen…”
“Is…she doing it now? You do not seem affected.”
“I’m not wearing the necklace, see?” I say, pointing to the empty spot on my chest. “That’s how I found her—she can only speak to the one wearing it. That’s why I’ve found her when no one else could.”
Abruptly, she pulls me into an embrace—
“So then…everything shall be well between us?”
“I don’t know why you’re asking me,” I mutter. “I’m the one that hurt you, I don’t know why you’re—”
“Yet, I understand now,” she whispers. “I do not hold it against you.”
“Well…I was a bit right,” I whisper under my breath.
“…It’s nothing,” I say with a yawn once more.
“Maybe you should rest, Hikaru,” she says softly, letting me go. “It appears you need it.”
Hardly without thinking, I lay myself on the cool grass. It feels rude, leaving her here alone, halting her journey…but suddenly fatigue hits me like a wave, making every limb weak. At last, I finally have enough peace that perhaps I can drift to sleep. Or maybe my weariness has merely become too great for me to handle.
For a few moments I lay out on the grass, enjoying the gentle warmth of the morning as I attempt to sleep…before suddenly I feel it, and shiver.
“A-Am I bothering you?” Suzette says, fingers stopping midway through my hair.
“Not at all,” I reply quietly, with a smile. “You’re fine.”
And so, she continues on…
I try to do it quietly; but still, I sigh.
Yes, I was a bit right…
You…really are too good for me, Suzette.
My thoughts are somewhat still, perhaps because I’ve merely become too tired to think too deeply…but it’s still hard to believe.
I did it, I finally did it. My greatest secret in all the world…the one thing I can’t tell anybody…
I really did finally tell her.
And yet…neither of us acknowledge what we truly want to say. What we both already know. But, how could I ever tell her I love her now?
Even if it’s reciprocated…she truly does deserve better than me. A pathetic old man that cannot even find a place in society…she deserves someone better than that. Someone more than that.
…Someone who won’t make her cry so terribly because they themselves are broken, lost within the dark, endless forest.
And, if she truly is Alex…he always deserved better than me anyways.
So, I continue lying still.
Even if it pains me…I cannot let her be hurt again.
☽O☾Lovingly created by [James Margaret Rose].