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~Suzette~

༻Chapter 26༺

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{I wake up hearing nothing but the sound of the loud turning wheels, and hooves hitting the hard dirt road. The darkness makes it difficult to see, but I can make him out a little bit: Hikaru laying on my shoulder, and his arm curled around mine. I grasp his hand and look out the slit in the curtain, attempting to adjust my eyes…

“You’re awake,” he says suddenly, softly.

“I am now,” I mumble hoarsely, still not entirely cognizant yet. “Forgive me for waking you up, Hikaru…”

“Oh, I was already awake…I can’t sleep in these things.”

“We’ll reach Solzédniê soon enough,” I look towards him with a smile, although I’m not sure he can see me.

“That’s what I’m worried about…” he sighs, gripping my hand tighter.

“What do you mean?”

“It feels like everything is going so fast…”

“Hikaru, you know we’re just going to the salon there, right? We’re not moving there—and besides, we’ve been living together for a while now, haven’t we?”

“Somebody is going to fall in love with your work immediately, and then we’ll have to find some place to live there.”

“Why are you so sure of that?”

“You’re really good, Alex. Really good…” he whispers.

“You have way too much faith in me,” I answer with a quiet laugh. “I mean, maybe…but I really doubt it.”

“I don’t want to live in Solzédniê,” he mumbles. “Think of how many people must be there…do they have parks there? Trees and flowers? It’s so big…”

“Hikaru, I doubt we’re going to live there. Honestly.”

“But what if we do? What if they give you an offer you can’t refuse?”

I pause.

“I’m sure it’s not so bad. You’ve never been there, have you?”

“No, but…I lived in pretty big cities as a child. They’re awful…”

“That was in Asàshí, right?”

“Here too. But the one here was worse…”

I sigh.

“Look at me, Hikaru.”

He slowly turns his gaze.

“Everything will be okay, I promise you. All right?”

“…All right, Alex,” he replies softly, then gives me a warm kiss. “I’ll…I’ll try to believe in you.”

“Everything will be better than we could ever imagine. I’m sure of it.”}

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Slowly I awake in a daze, not entirely aware of myself, nor my surroundings. All I feel is warmth, from every which direction…it takes a moment before I truly realize everything.

The rays of sunlight filtering through the curtain, heating the already warm summer air. The soft blankets, the one arm still resting above me. Visions of last night slowly flutter in my mind, like butterflies in a meadow…

Everything feels like an illusion. Surely this is the dream, and the dreams—no, surely those dreams are still truly dreams as well. What is reality? Could reality ever be so lovely as this?

Slowly I get up, attempting not to disturb him; and luckily, it appears to have worked. Ah, I cannot remember the last time he has slept so peacefully…

Quietly I get more dressed, open the door and step to the kitchen, as softly as I can manage. It feels a bit strange—although this place is relatively unfamiliar, it still nearly feels like home. Everything is…right. Although even my home scarcely felt as such as a child, and my home as an adult absolutely did not. Yet, I presume this is what a home is meant to feel like.

“Ašon bon!” I hear a chipper voice from the parlor.

“Ah, ašon bon!” I quickly greet, turning around. “I did not realize you were awake,” I comment, noticing him already fully dressed, a newspaper in one hand and steaming hot tea in the other.

“I should be asking you why you weren’t,” he says with a slight laugh. “I would assume a baker would be up at the crack of dawn!”

“Ah, well, I suppose that is…” I look away, embarrassment washing over me.

“Oh, please don’t be like that,” Florence says, a clear sadness in his voice. “Sâ pšyku, I was just joking with you.”

“Oh, yes,” I reply as I weave through the kitchen, getting a cup of milk…and suddenly realizing how terribly rude it is to be going through his house this way. We are siblings, but it has been a long time…

“Florence, may I—”

“Get whatever you’d like!” he replies before I can even finish. “But then, come here, it’d be nice for us to talk a little bit. I don’t mind food in here.”

And so I do as he says, finding a wrapped, not terribly old muffin that appears way more delicious than it should, and join him in the parlor.

“So,” he begins after I sit down, “Did you two have a good time last night?”

“Oh yes, everything was—Florence!” I exclaim, suddenly registering what exactly he is saying, “N-Not like—it was not, we did not—”

I stumble over my words as my face grows hotter and hotter, and Florence entirely loses himself in laughter.

“P-Please,” he tries to huff through laughs, “I know, don’t have to defend yourself! But your reaction was priceless.”

“So, did you…” I mumble, looking away from him.

“Hear what you said? A little bit, this place isn’t that big. But not everything, I’m really not trying to eavesdrop on you.”

“Well, I appreciate that…”

“I’m surprised,” he says after taking a sip of his tea. “After he was here for a bit, I just assumed you two were together and wanted to hide it from me. I haven’t seen you in a long time, so…it’s not really my place to prod.”

“I appreciate that as well,” I reply softly, until then thinking of something. “What…exactly led you to that conclusion?”

“The way you look at each other, act around each other—I’ve dealt with people long enough, I can tell. Just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m ignorant to these things.”

“So…I am assuming you do not mind?” I ask, looking his way again.

“Didn’t I already tell you, if I didn’t like him he wouldn’t be here right now,” Florence chuckles. “He’s not given me a reason to so far.”

“Thank you, it is a bit…I suppose I forgot any of my relatives could be accepting of…seemingly anything, at this point.”

Now, he gets a pained look on his face.

“Well, it’s best to forget about them.”

“Have you?”

“…As much as I can,” he says, taking a sip of his tea. “Although it should be easier now. I—well, I know I didn’t make a mistake.”

“You truly did not,” I say, “They truly…have not become any better.”

“…Pšyku,” he mutters. “I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”

“You do not have to keep apologizing, it is not your fault.”

He smiles.

“I’ll try to remember that,” he says while getting up, “But…I hope you don’t mind me going to work today still. Haven’t figured out how to make money make itself, unfortunately.”

“That is well, I believe I can handle myself,” I reply with a chuckle. “And…mâzjêr né, Florence, for letting us stay here. Even though it has been so long…”

He merely smiles, and waves to me one last time.

“Vwâ Suzette, I’ll be back later!”

“Vwârdnie,” I reply in return, as he opens the door and descends down the staircase.

I stay behind, finishing my breakfast as a thousand thoughts swirl through my mind…

Within the span of a day…absolutely everything has changed. All for the better, certainly; but, even so, I imagine this shall still take time to grow used to. For the first time, in quite a long time…my life is not quite so lonely. Not just for the present, but hopefully for many days to come…

Before I have too long to wander within my thoughts, however, I hear shuffling within the bedroom.

“Ašon bon!” I greet Hikaru as he slowly descends from the hallway, placing his hand on the wall. He is a complete disheveled mess; hair going every which direction, eye still closed even as he walks out.

“Ah…sâlêzj Suzette,” he mutters hoarsely, opening his eye and gently grinning at me.

“You appear quite well rested,” I chuckle, and he smiles even wider.

Clumsily he walks over, and takes a seat beside me.

“Yeah,” he says, “Everything is…nice.”

Slowly he begins sliding downwards, laying his head upon my shoulder—before abruptly shooting himself up again.

“I’m—”

“Hikaru!” I whisper a bit sternly, and he suddenly gazes at me, clearly somewhat startled. “I appreciate the consideration, but…truly, you do not have to be worried every time you touch me. If I wish to be left alone I will tell you; is that all right?”

“Yes,” he says softly, with a smile. “To be honest with you I…kind of wasn’t entirely sure if last night really happened or not, or if I dreamt it…”

Now, it is my turn to lay my head on his shoulder, closing my eyes.

“Luckily not,” I reply with a smile. “Unless, we happened to have the same one again?”

He chuckles, and I feel his hand soon holding mine.

“Then I guess it doesn’t matter either way,” he says and kisses my forehead, and I cannot help but squeeze a little tighter.

It feels a tad embarrassing, to still be—well, a little embarrassed—and yet…

For a few moments we sit, wrapped beside one another, before he speaks again.

“Have you thought about what you’d like to do?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, pulling away a little and gazing up towards him.

“How long do you want to stay here? We don’t have to hurry off, just—it might be useful to have some idea what we’re doing.”

“Would it bother you if we stayed here a couple of weeks?”

“Not at all,” he says. “I figured you would want that.”

“I truly do wish to know if this town would fit us…that sincerely does not bother you?”

“Well, I certainly don’t want you being homeless for the rest of your life,” he sighs. “It does seem to be beautiful here, though, as long as…hmm,” he begins mumbling, while looking away.

“As long as…?”

“As long as I don’t ruin it for you.”

And now I sigh.

“Hikaru…”

“This isn’t just me,” he replies quietly, gazing back towards me. “You’ve seen the way people treat me, especially in smaller places like this. You don’t deserve that too. But, I…I’ll tell you now, I won’t entirely change myself for you, even if I could change enough regardless, well…”

“Hikaru…” I look at him, a tad confused, “You believe I want you to change yourself for me…?”

“No, but—it just seems like a good idea to be wholly honest with you. Just in case.”

“I do appreciate that; yet, that is something you need not worry about.”

“You should, though. I mean, about your safety…”

“I know people can be cruel to you, yet…why are you so worried for my safety?”

At this he lets go of my hand, and brings his up to his face, stroking his white hair behind his ear. Of course by now I have seen it numerous times, but never in the full sunlight like this—the scar on his face where an eye once was.

He turns and gazes at me, wearing a frown.

“I would rather you not end up like this.”

“Was that not many years ago, and quite far away?”

“You know as well as I do Asàshí and Soléiâ have the same goddess…” he sighs. “And…some things change more slowly than others.”

“I will be well, Hikaru,” I smile, attempting to reassure him. “Please do not worry so much about me.”

“It’s too late for that now.”

At this, I turn, and pull him into an embrace...

“Then I suppose we are equal,” I whisper to him.

“You don’t have to worry about me…”

“You show me your scar and say why I should worry for myself, and yet you also say I need not worry about you?”

For a moment, he stays silent.

“I don’t want you to worry about me.”

“And I do not wish for you to worry about me either, and yet here we are.”

“All right, then,” he laughs, gently pulling away from me. “Fair enough.”

“So,” I begin, changing the subject back to where it once was, “Would you like to go on a walk with me?”

“Of course,” he smiles sweetly, and a wave of peace washes over me.

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

“I’m surprised there’s still not many out,” he comments as he and I walk through the small town, right by one another’s side.

“I would think you would like that!”

“I never said I didn’t,” he adds as we continue down the cobblestone streets almost entirely alone.

“It reminds me a little of Pšêkse…” I comment absentmindedly, thinking back to the town we have only recently left within our dreams. “It was larger than this, and yet there never seemed to be as many people on the streets as one may first guess…”

“Y-Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” he stutters. “Hmm…”

“Is everything well?” I ask gazing up at him, who in turn merely looking ahead blankly, his face seemingly even paler than usual, somehow.

“Suzette,” he begins, looking towards me, “Did you begin having those dreams in Florêt Folwêkhdin too?”

“…Yes?” I reply, entirely confused. “I assumed you knew…”

“Of course I figured as much, but…” he sighs. “You’re not with me out of some sense of obligation, are you?”

“Hikaru,” I glare at him—apparently severely enough that I notice him flinch back ever so slightly. At this I merely sigh and wrap my arms around his waist, pulling him close, while we’re still on the side of the cobblestone road.

“You know we’re—”

“Yes, yes, I know,” I reply flatly, holding him a little bit tighter. “I think…somehow you have become even more anxious than when you were young…”

“More time to become more anxious, I guess,” he mutters, lightly hugging me. “I just...I want you to be happy, truly happy.”

“I am,” I say softly, breathing in the faint scent of lavender from his clothes. “The only thing that makes me unhappy is…this.” I squeeze him a little more tightly, while he begins stroking my hair…

“I want you to trust me,” I say.

“I do.”

“You are not acting like it,” I add pulling away from him, reaching to grasp his hand. “…What for?”

“It’s been a long time,” he answers while wearing a melancholic face.

“We have not had any issues at all until today…”

“Have you forgotten about—”

“Have I not told you I have already forgiven that?”

He looks away and sighs, trying to free himself from my hand—but I only hold on tighter.

“I truly do love you, Hikaru.”

“And I love you…that’s why everything must be perfect.”

“If there are ever any issues, even if it is unpleasant, I am unafraid to tell you so…surely this is proof of that.”

A small grin appears on his face.

“It certainly helps,” he replies softly.

“Then,” I begin walking, pulling him along, “Please put more faith in me, Hikaru. Please put more faith in yourself as well…”

We walk along the road for a moment, weaving through the quiet, picturesque buildings, not a soul on the road aside from ourselves.

“Suzette,” he says after a moment, looking down towards me, “…I’ll try my best.”

And to this, I smile widely, an immediately reciprocated gesture.

I slow to a halt and begin to lean up towards him…and then, a frown.

“Is something wrong after all?”

“I…” my voice trails off, and suddenly my face grows very hot…

“Why…are you blushing?”

“I-I am not!” I stutter, growing even more hot, “N-No one can see when I am blushing, my skin is too dark for anyone to tell—”

“Did someone tell you that? I can see it…”

I merely bury my face into his side, overflowing with embarrassment.

“I was wishing to kiss you, yet…I cannot reach you, and even if you lean down I believe…”

“Well,” he steps away from me, “I can just bring you to me,” he states rather matter-of-factly.

“What do—” I begin, before suddenly understanding what he means in a panic. “Hikaru, do you not realize—”

Before I finish speaking, however, his arms already surround my whole body—!

“This is well enough,” I mumble; although it seems rude to keep him nearly kneeling on the dusty road, “W-Well, you are low enough now…”

“Then…” he whispers, “Can I hold you?”

“…Can you?”

And then, with nothing more than a small grunt—swiftly he springs up, holding my entire body—!

Frantically I wrap my arms around him and hold on tight, and gaze at the ground, seemingly so far down. How odd it is, that this must be how he sees everything, always…!

I turn my gaze towards him, my heart frantically beating. I blink, nearly worried my eyes may drop from my head.

“See,” he smiles sweetly, “It’s no problem.”

For a moment, I cannot help but stare. His cream colored face and strawberry eye so close to my own, not under the candlelight but the shining rays of the daytime…

How strange it is to think that when we first met I believed him a woman—the main source of the misconception is his hair, so extraordinarily long, and his insistence on wearing robes rather than trousers wherever he goes. Yet…his face is what made this falsehood truly believable. It is not quite effeminate, but it nearly seems too beautiful to belong to a man. Even with the lines of age, he is still…

Certainly no woman has inspired such feelings in me, but truthfully…neither has any man. Other than him.

“Suzette—”

Now, I interrupt him with a long, deep kiss. With my eyes closed, the world melts away, and we come together…

Suddenly, an old memory flashes within my mind—except this time, I hold him, both of us entwined atop a soft bed in the darkness, a joyful mess of tangled limbs.

I lean away from him and slowly open my dewy eyes.

“Why are you crying?” he asks soothingly.

“I…no one has ever held me before.”

“Not even when you were a child?”

“Truthfully…not that I can recall. Perhaps when I was little more than a babe…but never that I can remember.”

“What a shame…”

I lean against his shoulder and grin.

“No. I cannot say that now.” As I say this he holds me even tighter. “I did not realize how strong you were…”

“Well…you are rather small.”

“Not all of me…”

“Hmm…being a priest does give me some abilities; I wonder if strength is among them…”

I merely chuckle, and squeeze him more.

“Mâzjêr vrémond né, Hikaru…”

He chuckles.

“I should be saying that to you.”

And so, for a moment, the two of us stay entangled within one another’s arms. Somehow, he does not seem bothered even in the slightest.

I smile ever more widely. He is so worried about my safety, and yet…I do not believe I have ever felt more safe in my entire existence. He is worried that I am with him due to some strange sense of obligation, and yet I have never felt more loved…

I hope someday he will understand how I truly feel.

I lean in for a kiss once more, when—

“Look like you two’s having fun,” a boy’s voice says.

We both jump, startled, and then—!

The boy utterly loses himself in laughter as Hikaru and I topple to the ground, and I frantically scramble to get off from top of him.

“Well isn’t that an introduction?” he continues laughing shrilly, his curly blonde hair nearly enshrouding his face. “Never seen you all here before…that why you feel so comfy, getting cozy around a bunch of strangers?”

“I, erm…” I mutter, staring at the ground trying to compose myself. “Hikaru,” my gaze frantically returns to him, “Are you all right?”

He lays on his back for a moment, and then contorts his face a little as he sits up.

“I’m all right,” he whispers a little gravelly. “…Sorry about that.”

“It is well…”

“Hmm,” the boy says quietly. I stand up to face him, still a little off balance. Though he is decently taller than myself, he is still much shorter than a fully grown man, and quite thin. It almost seems as though his arm may crack if you merely gaze upon it too harshly. “Not often we see people like you around.”

“What is that meant to mean…?” I gaze upon him with a look of concern, while he looks at me with a strangely off putting expression of amusement.

“Y’two just seem a bit strange.”

“There was nobody on the streets, we thought—”

“Not just that,” he crosses his arms and rolls his eyes, “Though I guess that too. I’m assuming this one here’s your…husband? Unless you’re even more cheeky than y’seem.”

“Yes, h-he is—” I stutter, suddenly realizing partway through what precisely I am saying… I wait for Hikaru to object, but he says not a word.

“Hmm…” the boy hums once more, putting his hand on his chin and looking over me. “You seem vaguely familiar.”

“We are here to visit my brother—”

“Florence?”

“…You know him too?”

The boy chuckles.

“This town ain’t that big—not tiny, but we still all pretty much know each other. So—” he says, suddenly becoming more serious, “If y’all don’t want the whole town talking about those two strangers with the magnetic mouths, I’d be more careful if I were you.”

Immediately I gaze up towards Hikaru in both embarrassment and worry—and he does the same with me.

“Oh come on, don’t be like that. This town ain’t that bad, you’ll find that anywhere.”

To my surprise, Hikaru is the one who speaks next.

“…Will your parents approve of you talking to two strangers like us?”

The boy sighs very exasperatedly.

“I’m twenty-eight and the bartender at the tavern here. But I appreciate the concern.”

“Oh—please do forgive us—!” I suddenly panic for Hikaru and I, although it is hard to discern whether it is out concern for insulting him, or pure disbelief. Is it really possible for this “boy” to be a year older than me?!

“Happens all the time. I’m used to it.”

Hikaru chuckles.

“Everyone seems to think I’m a woman at first glance, so…I understand the feeling.”

The—the man looks out with a blank expression for a moment.

“Sounds shitty.”

“Well, when I speak they quickly realize, so I believe that’s a good thing.”

“It is. Well, anyways—” the man abruptly changes the subject, while beginning to walk away, “Speaking of work, I’d like to get some rest beforehand; maybe y’all can drop by later if you like. Shouldn’t be too busy. Vwa,” he waves off casually as he walks away.

“Well…we have met our first person here. Aside from Florence, I suppose,” I comment to Hikaru, and we begin walking back to Florence’s home. There are some more people on the streets, but still a fairly paltry number.

“I suppose so,” Hikaru says, in an oddly confused tone.

“Are you well, Hikaru?”

“I’m…not really used to people coming up and just talking to me like that. It’s strange…perhaps it’s because you’re with me.”

“I suppose in this instance it truly was,” I chuckle, although he just sighs.

“Pšyku, I thought we were alone; although that was rather foolish regardless…”

Scarcely without thought I come closer to him and take his hand into mine as we still walk along.

“I do not wish to be rude in public, yet…if we stay here, surely the entire town will soon know my love for you. ‘Rumors’ are not so terrible if they are the truth.”

At this, he squeezes my hand a little tighter.

“I’m so happy you’re here, Suzette.”

“Hmm? Why would I not be?” I look up towards him, and he just gazes down with a small smile; although for some reason—perhaps merely paranoia, by now—it seems slightly tinged with some sense of sadness.

“I’m just so happy you’re here.”

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