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~Suzette~

༻Chapter Twenty-Seven༺

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

“Oh, that was Oskar. Yeah, he can seem a bit strange at first,” Florence says while cutting fabric, “But, he’s not a bad person when you get to know him. I know him better than most, so—um, don’t tell him I told you that.”

“You two are friends? He did not mention that…”

“He more or less refers to everyone as an acquaintance, even when they’re closer than that. I think that’s just how he is.”

“Interesting…” I trail off, watching Florence as he works. I wonder how he keeps track of everything, how all these random scraps can become something so beautiful. “He said we could come by the tavern, although—”

“Did he?” Florence looks over at me, clearly surprised.

“…Yes?”

“Wow,” he returns to his work, now wide eyed. “He never tells anybody about himself, even little things like that. He must like you and Hikaru.”

“Huh…” I lower my chin into my hand, “Perhaps, yet he said we were strange; but to be fair, he did find us at an ill time…”

“Oh, then he definitely likes you. I think that’s why he gets along with me, he can only handle so much of ‘normal’ people.” I chuckle.

“Perhaps this really is the kind of town we should live in, especially since Hikaru is so frightened…” I sigh.

“What’s he scared of?”

I lean back in my chair and gaze throughout the shop for a moment, thinking of how to word what I am thinking.

“Surely you can see his condition, and…there are many other things that people may not approve of about him. But he cannot bring himself to change himself—”

“Do you want him to?”

“Of course not!” I exclaim, admittedly slightly offended. “Well…all right. I wish he were more confidant, not so terribly concerned all the time…but I do not want to change who he is. I just wish for him to be happy too…”

“Good,” Florence smiles. “I was about to yell at you, but it seems that’s unnecessary.” I sigh.

“Florence, you do not always have to—"

“I spent too many years not being your big brother. I’m trying to make up for lost time, here,” he says with a laugh.

“Fair enough.”

“And, to still give you some advice—” he continues on, “You said you were thinking about living in Bydlin, right?”

“Yes, it seems quite nice here.”

“Then I think you should go to the tavern—here!” he says, ceasing his work and turning to me, hands on his hips, “I can even go with you and your husband,” he accentuates with a smile.

“Florence…!” I shake my head, and shove it into my palms. “I truly should have left that part out…” He merely laughs in response.

“Seriously though, it would be a good way to get to know some people here. See if you actually want to stay.”

“But…” I look up to him, concerned, “What kind of…people will be there?” All my life, I have heard about taverns, full of drunkards, fighting, loud and maddening—yes, Hikaru and I visited the tavern on the border of Solzédniê, yet that was during the day and at a crossroads where many people go to rest, not merely drink. A tavern in a small town such as this, at night, it must surely be…

“It’s not like you’ve heard, or maybe have experienced elsewhere,” he says. “Yeah, there’s a few assholes, but most people really are quite nice.”

“Do you go there?”

“Every once and again. I can’t socialize that much, but when I want to it’s a fine place to go. I’ll warn you it’s not the fanciest place ever, but…” I chuckle.

“I do not quite care about such things now, as long as the people there are kind.”

“That’ll serve you well,” he smiles.

“But, I will have to discuss it with Hikaru first, he can be a little…”

“Of course, I understand. Just let me know what you two decide, okay?”

“Yes! And…mâzjêr né, Florence.”

“Um…I’ve not anything, though.”

“Everyone says that…” I sigh, suddenly realizing that I suppose I do too. “For letting us stay with you, showing us around…thank you.”

“Oh, any time,” he says, continuing to work.

“Do you mind if I leave to—”

“You don’t have to ask me, you’re a grown woman. So yes.” I chuckle.

“I shall be back in a little while.”

“Have fun with your husband,” he smirks, and I sigh. He will never let me live this down, will he! Although I surely hope that shall be an accurate title, someday…

I soon scramble up the stairs.

Slowly I open the door and find Hikaru sitting on the couch, holding and staring at his swirly moon necklace in his hands, with a concerned look upon his face.

“Jéyu bon, Hikaru,” I greet as I walk in, and he jumps a little.

“Ah…sâlêzj, Suzette.”

“Are you well?” He sighs.

“Y-yeah…of course,” he stutters, placing the necklace on the end table as I seat myself beside him.

“Hikaru,” I whisper, “I know you said not to mention this; but, since you are not wearing it right now…are you concerned about Maiden Moon?”

“…Yes,” he replies quietly, as though she may still hear. “It seems I’m just worried about everything,” he chuckles with an air of sadness, turning away from me.

“It does indeed…” I say, grasping his hand. “Although, if she is the one who made you have such horrid thoughts about yourself…”

“She just…” he trails off. “She spent a very long time alone, with not a single soul…I’m the first person who ever found the necklace. So she’s latched onto me horribly.”

“How long was she alone?”

“I don’t know exactly, I don’t think she knows either…at least four or five thousand years.”

“T-Thousand?!” I mutter in disbelief; my head spins at the thought. So many decades, centuries spent alone…how on earth can one, even a goddess, endure such a thing? If I spent even a measly fraction of that time alone, surely I would go mad…

Suddenly I understand Hikaru a little better, however. Even if she can be cruel, it must be terribly difficult to merely abandon her…

“Then, she shall not be happy with us being…”

“She knows I love you, she’s…somewhat accepted it, I think. But…I’m still afraid of what I’m going to return to. But I can’t just—”

“I understand,” I sigh softly. “Hikaru…do you stand up to her, when she is being cruel?” He chuckles.

“When it’s something directed towards you…but I’m trying.”

“Then I am sure it shall be well,” I lay my head on his shoulder, hoping my words shall be true. “If she truly cares for you, she will listen. And if not…” I sigh.

“Hikaru,” I look up towards him.

“Yes?” he gazes down, and meets my eyes.

“I have spent most of my life attempting to please people who did not truly care about me. I am not saying this is precisely the same, but…please. Please love yourself more than this…” He leans down and gives me a soft, gentle kiss, and smiles.

“I won’t, Suzette. I promise.” I smile.

“Mâzjêr né…oh!” I exclaim, suddenly remembering why I returned her in the first place. “I came up here to ask you—would you like to visit the tavern with Florence and I?”

“Tonight?”

“Yes, Florence thought it may be a good way for us to meet the people in this town, so we know if we would like to live here. I know you do not socialize often, but…”

“I suppose it would be good to figure out if it would be safe to stay here or not,” he muses. “Hopefully in a town like this, their tavern won’t be too…”

“Florence said the people there tend to be kind, so…I will trust his word. And if they are not, well…we may just continue onwards, yes?”

“We do have plenty of time, I hope,” he says softly while gently laying his head atop mine.

“You hope?”

“We never know what tomorrow will bring, but—”

I sigh.

“Hopefully it shall bring your optimism back…” I mumble.

“…Pshyku,” he mutters nearly silently. “But surely…you know too. You remember perhaps better than I can even imagine.”

I close my eyes and grab his hand, squeezing the bony fingers within my own.

“Should that not encourage you?” I whisper. “Even death could not keep us apart. Although I am different—”

“I wouldn’t trade who you are now for anyone in the world, Suzette. And…yes, you’re right,” he says with a sigh that for once sounds like one of relief.

“The path may not always be easy, but I am sure we shall be well.” Gently, he snuggles his head against mine, and chuckles lightly.

“Well, just moments like this are more than I ever imagined,” he whispers, “So…I’ll just enjoy the present, and let the future do what it may.”

I smile and loosen my posture, leaning more into him as I close my eyes, and soon drift off into sleep…

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{“Look at it!” I nearly shout, face pressed against the window almost like a little child. “There it is, Solzédniê…!”

It’s hard not to stare at the flat expanse of tall, colorful buildings looking almost magical in the early morning—maybe the exact antithesis to the drab buildings dabbling the hills in Pshêkse, which in the morning are covered in shadows until the sun rises over the hills. The buildings seem to go on forever, far beyond what the eyes can see; even from here, it seems a metropolis too amazing to exist in reality.

“I take that it’s to your liking?” Beaulieu asks facetiously. All I can reply is a quick, excited “Yes!” and he only laughs in return.

“If you think that’s great, you should see the interior, boy. That’s where the salon is, in the den of all those rich folks…it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen.”

“It’s already amazing!” I exclaim, before turning to my side, “Isn’t it, Hikaru?”

He doesn’t face me at all, but instead continues staring out his window. After a moment, he slowly nods.

“Somehow it’s even bigger than I thought…”

“Hi—” I begin, but before I can even finish his name, Beaulieu interrupts me.

“The interior isn’t quite so big, so don’t worry too much!” he reassures him. Once more Hikaru just nods and hangs his head, grasping at his sleeves.

I sigh, and a moment later take his hand into mine. Neither of us say a word; but instead, he merely squeezes my hand tightly.

For a while longer, we stay within the carriage as we enter the city. Although I still hold his hand, I lean over and look out the window some more, staring at all the people—so many people in every which direction, it’s hard to know where to look first! Some walking about alone, some haggling at their shops. More than anything, I’m most surprised that nobody seems particularly bothered by the presence of not only our carriage but others, weaving through them as though they can’t hurt them. I suppose it makes sense, only a few roads in my hometown can even handle carriages; and when they do come by, many people look upon them in mild awe. I guess it’s logical, but still a bit strange how different everything is here.

After what feels like ages after we enter the city, we pass through a long, stone tunnel…and then, suddenly, everything changes.

It’s exactly as Beaulieu described—every building is immaculately built, some covered in beautiful carvings and moldings of nobility, of faeries and figures from the old tales, of Lady Sun gazing down at those beneath her. The streets are orderly and clean, everyone is dressed in brocaded suits and gowns, adorned with shining metals and jewels as though they’re going to some grand event, but I’m sure this must be how they’re always dressed. Even though I’ve seen scenes like this in paintings…I suppose they seemed almost fantastical in nature, like those paintings of faeries frolicking in the woods. The works of peoples’ imaginations, nothing real. But here it is.

“Isn’t it amazing?” I turn towards Hikaru again, who in turn looks at me with a wide eye.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” he says breathlessly. “I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, but…”

“See, it’s not so bad!”

“Well…yeah, I guess not,” he says a little unconvincingly. I can only sigh in return.

I don’t understand why he’s so upset; is it not absolutely magnificent here? Maybe he’s just not used to it—I’m sure he’ll come around in time.

Soon, our carriage rolls to a stop.

“Here we are!” Beaulieu announces enthusiastically. “This will be the hotel we’re staying at; our work is being kept at the academy until the salon.”

The carriage door is soon opened for us, a doorman waiting on the other side. But, my attention is instead fixated on the hotel behind him…

It is a relatively thin building, but reaches up and up—six floors! It is a soft pink, with white molding adorning it. A large marble relief of Lady Sun hangs over the entrance, with dozens of people surrounding her, even the smallest ones carved with immaculate detail.

“Can we afford this…?” I hear Hikaru whisper.

“You’ve seen my home, haven’t you? I make quite a good living, I just try not to use it all up—it helps in times like this.”

I can only barely pay attention to their conversation; instead, I remain enraptured by the beautiful art before me. At least, until Beaulieu interrupts my daydreaming.

“Stop gaping boy, you’ll have plenty of time to do that after we check in. Lots of people want in, I’m sure, so we can’t be late.”

“R-right,” I mutter, suddenly intensely embarrassed at myself; it must be pathetically obvious I’m from a provincial town. It’s not something I ever felt poor over, or even considered really—it’s all I’ve ever known. But now, being here…yes. Suddenly the entire world seems like a marvelous, unknown place, and I’ve only experienced one sad little corner of it.

I…I know I just arrived, but I have trouble imagining how I can ever truly be satisfied in Pshêkse again.

We walk into the hotel, and somehow what greets me only keeps surprising me. The shining tiled floors, the furniture detailed with divinely patterned fabrics and the dozens of people packed together, looking like a collection of delicate dolls…

I gaze out on everything, scarcely forgetting why I’m even here as Beaulieu checks in with the clerk. Everything is just…wonderful. Absolutely magnificent.

“All right boys!” Beaulieu says, turning around, “Time to get hiking!”

“Hiking?” I ask.

“Yep, we’re on the top floor!” I can’t help but blink at him. Six stories…

“Well, let’s get going Hikaru!” I turn over and say to him, trying to be lighthearted about the situation. Hikaru stands nearby, behind me…but, he doesn’t react at all. He stands nearly perfectly still, eye glaring down at the floor as though he is trying to stare a hole through it, with a strange sort of grimace just barely gracing his face. The only movement is that of his hands, twirling around the sash at his waist.

“…Hikaru?” I reach out to him and nudge his shoulder, and he flinches back as though he was just touched by a total stranger. “We’re going to our rooms, we have to go upstairs…”

He stares at me a moment and merely blinks, before finally nodding.

Beaulieu and I carve a path through the crowded lobby, finding the stairwell painted a brilliant white. Hikaru sticks to me so closely, I feel his head bump against my shoulder a few times, like his head is dropped low and he isn’t actually watching where he’s going.

We all make it up the stairs, probably a longer flight than I’ve ever had to go up in my entire life…as I stop to catch my breath a moment, Beaulieu takes out my hand and places in it a key.

“And here’s for your room!”

“…My room?”

“Yes, I got myself a room, and you and your boy another—I prefer privacy if I can help it, and I’m sure you two will as well,” he says with a sly smile. “I’ll be in the room next door, just come and knock if you need anything!” And with that he begins down the hallway, and I stand back and watch him a moment. I suddenly realize…he didn’t tell me what number our room is, and I’m not really sure how to find out. After a moment, he reaches one near the end of the hall; I’m not really sure which side is ours, but I guess I’ll figure it out.

“You hear that, Hikaru?” I turn around once more, finding him in precisely the same state as before. “We got our own room! Isn’t that great?”

After a pause he nods, but it’s…rather jerky and unnatural, like he’s forcing himself to react. I turn around, and try to keep in my sighs.

I reach Beaulieu’s door, but suddenly…I’m at an impasse. I have no idea where to go…until I look down at the key, and notice it has a number carved into it.

“Gods, I’m an idiot,” I mutter to myself. Hikaru still remains totally silent.

I find the door with the matching number, and soon unlock it—and as always in this place, it seems, I gaze at the room with awe.

At the end of the wall is a huge window, framed by curtains with a lovely patterns of golden flowers. Against the wall to the right is a single very large bed, its blanket—now holding Hikaru, as he abruptly and clumsily flops down onto it.

“Gaahhhh!!!” he shouts to himself, holding his head in his hands, his whole body folding in on itself.

“W-what on earth are you doing?” I burst out flabbergasted, then quickly try to lock the door. I don’t want anyone seeing us like this…!

“Nnn…” is all he can mumble as I walk up to the other side of the bed and sit down. He doesn’t move at all.

“Hi—”

“What do you mean what on earth is going on?!” he nearly yells. Now I can see his face clearly, a bright red with tears welling in his eye.

“I said what on earth are you doing, and—”

“It’s so loud…” he mumbles, sounding as though he is already crying. “It hurts…”

“It’s completely quiet up here, except—”

“Downstairs…there’s so many people, so many conversations all at once…I don’t get how you’re so calm…!” I blink at him, still completely, utterly confused.

“Are you…okay?”

“No, it hurts…” he mutters once more, and buries his face in a pillow. “I-It’s getting a little better, but…I feel like everything…everything is spinning…”

I sit there quietly feeling both horrible, and utterly confused. I know Hikaru is often somewhat of an odd person, and yet this is…truly unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. I can’t fathom what he’s going on about; yes, it was a little loud, but loud enough for this?

I lay beside him and try to bring him close, but it’s a bit difficult. He doesn’t shift closer to me, but only shivers a little at my touch.

“It’ll be fine,” I whisper to him, trying to reassure him.

“Alex…” he says, lifting his face up to look at me with an eye full of sorrow, “I think you should go to the salon alone…or only with Beaulieu, I guess…”

“Why?”

“I…if I can’t handle that lobby, how can I handle the salon, how can I handle it anywhere…?” he sighs, and buries his face back in the pillow. “How long are we staying here?”

“A week…or forever.”

“Or…what?”

“Hikaru, it’s beautiful here, it’s like something out of—”

“A nightmare—!” Hikaru blurts out, digging his hands into the pillow.

“I understand you’re scared, but—”

“I’m not scared of anything, this is just a wretched place. I hate it here.”

“You’ve barely been here—”

“And you’ve barely been here too.”

Gently I reach out, and begin stroking his back.

“I know this is a big change, but I am certain you’ll get used to it.”

“How…?”

“You’re rather strong, Hikaru.”

“Rather pathetic, more like it.” I sigh.

“When we get well adjusted here, I’m sure you’ll love it.”

“You’re sure…?”

“Absolutely!” I reply enthusiastically. “Please just trust me, Hikaru…”

“All right, Alex…I trust you.”}

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Slowly I open my eyes to a dark room, with only the faint light of one lamp illuminating it. Still I lay on Hikaru’s shoulder, his head atop mine, although now a blanket covers the both of us. I smile, touched at what must be Florence’s gesture…but even so, my head still spins.

So…Alex truly did know Hikaru was suffering. I knew Hikaru was suffering. And yet everything was so dazzling…

How could I be so careless? Why would I think it would be a fair idea to make him endure something so obviously taxing to him? How…how could I be so selfish?

I bite my lip…and in spite of myself, tears begin overflowing from my eyes. I go to wipe them away, when—

“…Suzette?” Hikaru says to me groggily.

“N-Nykhte bon, Hikaru…” I whisper my greeting, still not meeting his face.

“Suzette…” he repeats, so softly it gives me slight chills, “Are you crying?”

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it does…why would you say that?”

I turn myself around and hug him tightly, burying my face into his side…

“Sâ pshyku Hikaru, I am so sorry…”

“F-For?” he begins, and then pauses. “Is it the dream?”

“Yes,” I whisper. “I was so cruel back then, making you suffer all because everything seemed so magnificent—not knowing it is all a farce regardless…”

“Suzette…” he says yet again, this time with a confused tone, “You…weren’t even born yet.”

“But Alex—”

“Was young, and did what he thought was best.”

“No, I was being selfish…”

“Suzette,” he pulls away from me, and with his hand turns my face to face his, shadows gently caressing it in the soft lamplight, “You weren’t born yet. Are you willing to admit you’re not Alex every time except when he did something you don’t like?” I frown at him.

“But…has anything changed?”

“Yes, I’d say a lot has.”

“But…I wish to stay here in Bydlin, I wish to bring you to the tavern which may too be unpleasant to you…”

“But, so far I like it here.”

“It is not what you are used to…”

“Suzette, I don’t really want to remain homeless forever. This life will take its toll on me eventually—I already don’t move as well as I used to.”

“You appear perfectly fine to me?”

“Because it’s not so bad right now. But…as long as I’m alive, I’m only getting older. And besides…I want a life with you, Suzette,” he adds softly. “The fact that you seem so eager to live in such a sleepy town, I actually find comforting, even in spite of my fears…I know how much you’re accommodating me.”

“Is it truly accommodating if it is what I wish for too?” He chuckles.

“Well, I guess you’ll have to answer that.” At last, I smile a little.

“Yet, the tavern—”

“If I can’t handle it, I’ll leave…I’m assuming you won’t be upset at that.”

“Yes, but…I do not want you to even have to face any unpleasantness.”

“We can’t always avoid everything bad in life, can we?”

“Unfortunately not,” I sigh.

Gently once more he leans in and embraces me, my entire body enshrouded within his arms.

“Maybe we should both relax, and try to enjoy ourselves tonight…” Hikaru whispers. “This is the first time we’re really facing the world as…”

“It is exciting,” I whisper.

“…Even for you?”

“Of course; I have never been less alone in all my life, never have felt so loved…it is why I worry. I do not wish to put my desires over yours, I just wish for you to be happy…”

“We really do have more in common than it often seems…”

“Yes,” I reply even more softly, sinking deeper and deeper into his chest.

“Let’s both put aside this nonsense…it seems all we’ve done today is worry, when I’d much rather spend it like this…do you agree?”

“How could I not?” I chuckle. “Please forgive me, Hikaru…”

“Well…I’ve done the exact same thing.”

“Perhaps we have less to worry about than we believe; of course we cannot control the world, yet—”

“Perhaps if we’re by each other’s side, we can merely protect one another ourselves.”

“There is nothing I would love more, Hikaru.”

⋅•⋅⊰∙∘☽✧☾∘∙⊱⋅•⋅

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