Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This was another tough chapter to get through. I think the idea of this chapter was actually harder than actually working on it. Once I got started I revised it pretty easily, but I really, really did not want to get started. Please let me know about any problems or errors I might have missed in this chapter!
This chapter is made possible by my fantastic supporters. Thank you so much for believing in me!
After getting a brief taste of freedom from her appointment with Dr. Charlotte, Rina only grew more irritated by the ways her mother still tried to baby her. She felt ready to deal with the world again. She woke up each day and could not help thinking about what she would be doing that day if she was in class.
If anything her mother had restricted her more since she had her first real opportunity to go out in the world since her illness. With each day her frustration only grew. She could not tell if she was being paranoid or if something was actually going on between her and her mother and the universe just had not bothered to inform her of what was going on.
She felt as though her mother was punishing her now. Suddenly she did not feel as though her restrictions were entirely there to keep her healthy and safe, but to a degree at least the restrictions now felt like a punishment. Just thinking about that made her angry.
Being home alone left her with no real outlet for her emotions, so her anger just built up inside of her and grew until it was entirely blown out of proportion. She could feel it happening, but she felt helpless to stop it. She paced around the house, first the first floor and then the second.
She contemplated texting Corine about it, but she did not even know how to express her thoughts without sounding like she was being paranoid about it all. She knew if she did not even possess the conviction in her own anger to express it to her friend and let off some steam she probably did not have any grounds to be as angry as she felt right now.
She tried to distract herself with television, but sitting still and trying to turn off her brain just made her even more frustrated. Walking around might have allowed her time to get caught in a circle of illogical thinking and conjecture, but it at least provided her an outlet for some of the energy built up by her anger. The longer she sat the more miserable and angry she felt.
Something needed to change so she could feel better. At first, she was just thinking about a way to keep herself from burning up with useless frustration, but before she knew it she was packing her bags. Without even thinking she managed to decide that she needed to get out of her mother’s house.
That was it. The plan came into being without any conscious thought on her part. She knew she wanted to go, but she had no plan beyond that. She planned to leave, but with nowhere to go, and no way to get anywhere she had a feeling this plan was doomed to fall apart. If she continued to pack without thinking she would just have to put it all away once she settled back down. On the other hand, if she actually used her brain and tried to make a plan to really leave she would have to face the fact that she was essentially running away from home, and at her age she was not sure if she would be allowed to come back again if she came to regret this decision.
She knew she needed to talk to her mother about what was bothering her before she made any sort of plans to leave. She needed to know if there was actually a reason for her to be feeling this way or if she was just losing her mind.
Her hands just kept working, packing clothes and toiletries so she had everything she needed to go away. She had everything she needed to take a trip without even thinking about it. She ran out of things to pack up and just stopped. Looking around her room at all of the things she would have to leave behind, her eyes welled up with tears. This room had been her home, her haven for most of her life. Her dorm room had eclipsed it in importance, but now she had lost that. This room was the only space in the world that truly belonged to her. Thinking about leaving it, and leaving most of the physical objects in her life that helped define her as a person, behind filled her almost to the brim with soul-crushing guilt.
Leaving might be the biggest mistake she could make. Staying might end up ruining her life. Before anything could happen she needed to get all the facts. Being ruled by her emotions always scared her. She preferred to act a bit more logically, even when that just did not seem to be possible.
With her bags packed she had nothing left for her hands to do. She could feel the anger start to dissipate, but not for any reason that actually led to a resolution of her problem. She just started to worry. She pushed the bags up against the wall and started to pace from one side of the room to the other. None of this was part of a plan. She needed a plan. She always had a plan. So much had happened based on a notion that had no reason behind it and now she needed to back up and come up with something coherent to allow her world to make sense again. She knew she would need to speak to her mother. There would be a confrontation even though she hated the idea of starting a big argument with her mother after all of the little arguments and disagreements they had been having lately.
She felt guilty for planning to instigate a fight. Standing up for herself was one thing, but actually going into a situation knowing it would end in a fight felt almost evil to her. She felt like she was picking a fight. Trying to tell herself differently was not working. The words she planned to say to her mother could only result in her mother getting angry.
None of it seemed like it was worth it. It seemed cruel to both of them. They would both end up miserable if she went through with this.
Leaving without saying a word might spare them both he pain of a fight. Doing that would leave her always wondering whether or not her mother was actually trying to punish her or if something else was going on. If she just ran away the questions in her mind would eat away at her.
She wanted to cry. She wanted to be anywhere but here. She just wanted to get this over with, but she had no control over when her mother would get home from work. If she wanted to talk to her then she would have to wait.
No one liked to wait, but waiting combined with frayed nerves from an oncoming battle of wills left Rina exhausted. Her legs protested her constant pacing. Her head pounded from a sudden onset headache. She needed a nap more than anything. She laid down on her bed, curled into a fetal position and tried to quiet her mind enough to allow her to get some rest.
Inside her head, she just kept telling herself that there was nothing left to do just now. She just needed to wait. She needed to be patient, even though she could not think of a single time in her life she had managed to be patient at the moment.
Eventually, it really felt like it took an eternity, she did calm down and she fell asleep. She woke up again to a dark room. The sun had set while she slept.
She sat up with a start. She knew her mother must be home by now, but she had not heard from her. If her mother was home and all was still quiet then her mother must not have seen her packed bags. She knew she would not be allowed to sleep if her mother saw bags packed and had any reason to suspect she was preparing for some sort of act of rebellion.
That was what this really was, she realized. She was rebelling against her mother. With less than a year left as a teenager, she suddenly started to go through a rebellious phase. She was not impressed. Her mother certainly was not amused. She wished she knew what brought this on, but more navel-gazing was not going to get her out of this situation. Just because she knew what was happening in her mind now did not mean that she was able to overcome it. Understanding was just the start of it. She still needed to take action to be able to get relief in her mind.
She stretched and got out of bed. She was certain she had blanket marks on her cheek, and her hair probably could look better, but she knew none of that mattered. Her mother would not take notice to any of that once she started talking. She was going to make both their lives so much more difficult in just a single, short moment.
She took a deep breath and left her room to look for her mother. She could not accomplish anything if she did not get started in the first place.
Mother was downstairs in the living room, watching the news. She approached her cautiously. The accusations she was about to bring up suddenly weighed down on her. Even thinking about saying what she had thought just about broke her heart now.
Keeping it inside of her would cause it to eat away at her, though. She could already feel that little speck of black on her soul. If she did not purge that darkness she would turn into some sort of bitter creature she would not even recognize. Then again saying this sort of thing to her mother would make her into someone she did not recognize either.
Nothing she did would make everything right and the way it used to be. She needed to accept that now before things changed even more and she completely lost sight of herself.
She took a deep breath. It did nothing to make her feel more prepared for what she was about to say, or the fight that she could easily foresee coming from this topic. Even all the tension and arguments she had with her mother over the course of the last few weeks did nothing to make her feel better about bringing on another fight.
Guilt could not be allowed to rule her life, though. She knew that much at least. She was feeling trapped in this house and that was why she needed to do this. Trapping herself inside her own mind with feelings of guilt and an obligation to some need she felt to be a good daughter would not help her to break free after all.
She spent eighteen years trying to be a good daughter. She carried the burden of guilt of being the only one her mother had to come home to. She dealt with the idea that she might be the reason her mom never really bothered to get back on the dating scene after her father left. All of that was a lot of heavy stuff for a young girl to handle.
It might be why she tried to break free from all of those obligations over the course of the last year. She needed to live for herself and not for the expectations of her mother. She needed to form her own expectations for herself and strive to live up to those. She had just started to live for herself, and then everything had changed and she was back to living in her mother’s home, living by her rules, and feeling so incredibly guilty for destroying the plans they had both so carefully formed for her life over the years.
“Mother?” she said hesitantly.
“What is it, Rina?” her mother said in a tone that made her almost second guess whether she could actually bring up a point that would start a fight.
It had to be done. She could not let this go. The entirety of the day leading up to this moment had been absorbed by her obsession with this problem. Everything hung on a cusp with this conversation.
“Are you mad at me for messing up all of our plans this year?”
“No. Why would I be mad? You didn’t make any of this happen.”
“Well, then why are you keeping me on house arrest?”
“What? You’re not on house arrest.”
“Mother! You won’t let me out of the house unless it is for a doctor’s appointment, and even then you want to go with me to every single one again. You let me take the bus to see Dr. Charlotte, but then you told me I wasn’t allowed to go out on my own again. If that isn’t house arrest I don’t know what it is.”
“You’re sick. You need to stay home and rest. It’s not house arrest.”
“I feel fine! I’ve felt fine the past few weeks. There’s no reason I can’t go out and do something to pass the time before next semester. I — I should be looking for a job. I might not be able to find one short term, but I should be out there trying.”
“You were just in the hospital.”
“No. Not just. I was in the hospital weeks ago, and I was already feeling much better before they even released me. This is just ridiculous!”
“I just want to make sure you are healthy before you start to put strain on yourself again.”
“Healthy? Mother, what is healthy about sitting around the house all day?”
“You need your rest.”
“I think I got more than my fair share of rest while I was in the hospital.”
“Rina, you aren’t well. You wouldn’t be talking like this if you were.”
“You’re kidding, right? Please tell me you’re kidding. You think I’m not well because I’m disagreeing with you?” She laughed so she would not cry.
“You don’t sound like yourself.”
“I think I sound just fine. I’m growing up. I want to have my own life. You’re just going to have to deal with it, and stop treating me like I can’t deal with being outside of the house.”
“You need to take a step back and realize how childish you are being.”
“I’m going to call Corine and go stay on campus for a few days. We’ll see who’s right in a few days.”
“You know, fine. If you think you’ll feel better there then just go. If you’re feeling that miserable here it’s probably for the best.”
The first thing she remembered as she came to was pain. She hurt in places she had never hurt before. She could not even think of a time she had hurt this much at one time. Her raw blisters from earlier were hardly worth even thinking about compared to this pain.
She wondered what had happened. She knew she had blacked out. She was pretty sure she had been hit on the head. Her head was still killing her. That seemed to be the worst of the pain. She could not even sit up at first. The slightest movement at all sent severe waves of nausea through her.
Finally, she managed to muster up the strength of will to open her eyes. She had expected to be in bright, full sunlight in the same clearing she had been in before she lost consciousness. Wherever she was now it was dim and only softly lit by glowing plants.
Those plants made her sure Souma was nearby. She felt relieved. Well, for a moment she felt relieved, and then she suddenly felt mortified that Souma had found her in such a state. She did not quite understand where that thought came from until she sat up and looked down at herself.
She had been sleeping or unconscious or whatever the case may be under a light blanket. Underneath the blanket her clothing was in tatters. Her skin was bruised and scratched nearly everywhere she could see.
That could not be good. She was starting to feel sick. All of this seemed so very, very wrong. Something she had happened and she could not remember any of it. All sorts of awful scratches covered her and she knew for a fact they had not been there before. That had all happened while she was blacked out.
She needed new clothes. If Souma was nearby she could not let him see her like this. She needed to cover herself up with something more than a blanket. When she tried to get up waves of pain shot up from between her legs.
That was a bad, bad sign. There was not much she knew about these things, but she understood enough to realize something was awful had happened to her. She gagged and had to swallow hard to keep herself from heaving up whatever was left in her stomach.
She curled up on her side and pulled the blanket tight around her. She wanted nothing more than to pass out again. She did not want to be awake and dealing with this.
None of this was supposed to happen. She had run away from home to make sure this sort of thing never happened to her. She had tried to be careful. She had tried to listen to her instincts, but her instincts just were not strong enough to save her from the sort of monsters that seemed to be everywhere around her.
Now she understood they could not be trusted. None of them could be trusted. Even the ones that did nothing to actively harm her still managed to put her in harms way through their pigheadedness. She needed to learn to rely on herself. No one else could be trusted. She just needed to be stronger. She needed to be stronger than all of them. Then none of them would be able to do this to her again.
She was going to be sick. There was no doubt about that. She was fighting it as hard as she could, but she could still feel it coming. It was a nightmare. That had to be the case. A nightmare. She tried to breathe slowly. She had to get back in control of the situation. There was so much she still needed to do. She was a mess and she needed the strength to get herself cleaned up.
There was no way to deny that she had already been found by Souma, which meant that she had already been seen in this embarrassing state. She just did not want him to see her like this again. He was not here now. She had a chance to get cleaned up and she was missing it because of an upset stomach.
Once again she tried to get up. This time, she managed to reach her feet. She tried to gain her balance before proceeding. She felt her consciousness start to blur around the edges when she realized her upper thighs were coated in a sticky mess she dared not consider too closely. It took all of her willpower to stay on her feet. She knew what had happened. She had realized it before, but now the harsh reality of it all was really setting in. She felt dirty. She felt violated. She needed to get out of her own skin. She needed to scrub every trace of this violation away from her body. She would scrub herself raw and grow an entirely new layer of skin if that was what it took.
There was just an awful level of filth that seemed to have been settling into her skin as she stood there and thought about the implications of the sensory information she was taking in. She started digging at the skin on her arms with her nails. Going ahead with all of this was all too much. She wanted to go back. She needed to get away from this time. This had already proved to be too much to handle. The blanket was pulled more tightly around her body as a loud, pitiful wail escaped from her throat.
It was dark because she was trapped inside of some sort of small, wooden dome. She had been so preoccupied with all of her physical complaints before that she had failed to completely take in her surroundings. Now she had finally taken notice only realize that she was trapped. There were walls on on sides and no door and no windows. The light came solely from the plant glow plants which were one of Souma’s favorite house plants. It seemed that Souma was the one who put her here. He had trapped her. She had no idea why he would do such a thing.
She stumbled over to the wall and started scratching at the wood. She needed to get out. She could not be trapped in here like this. She needed to wash herself off. She needed to wash away these stains on her skin. She would not be able to start to forget until she could stop seeing it over and over again. She broke a nail on the wood and left a bloody streak as she continued to scratch. When that proved to be a futile effort she slammed her hands against the wall repeatedly and screamed.
The saplings making up the wood of the dome parted close to her and Souma stepped inside. Their eyes met briefly and Yuzuki was shocked by the strained, haunted look that she spotted in his face.
“Yuzu!” he cried out in relief and took a step toward her.
She gasped and took a step back.
“You’re awake. Let me get you some medicine. You must be in pain.”
She stumbled backward and her legs gave out from under her. Being seen like this was too much for her to handle. She did not want anyone to know.s he wanted to his away until she could at least pretend everything was okay again. It was too much to bear.
“Yuzu!” he exclaimed when she fell. “It’s okay. Don’t try to get up. I’ll help you.”
“Don’t touch me,” she pleaded.
“Okay,” he agreed and stood back. “What can I do to help?”
“Leave me alone,” she begged as tears started running down her cheeks.
“You’ve been hurt. You’re bleeding. I can’t just leave you alone.”
“Then why weren’t you here?”
His hands clenched in to fists at his side. “I went looking for those two bastards.”
“I was all alone. You left me. How could you just leave me all alone like that.” Her teeth were chattering. She could feel herself shaking. It was all just too much. She started rocking herself back and forth.
He looked over at her, helpless and defeated. He knew he had failed her, and now he did not know how to help her. She was in pain and she could not bring herself to allow him to comfort her. He was the only one she had though. There was no one else to there who would try to help her.
The urge to push him away was still ever present though. He had betrayed her trust by making her stay behind. She wanted someone to blame. He was the closest and easiest target. Without him there was no safety net for her though. Her life was falling to pieces around her. Some of it was shredded like her clothes. Other parts were falling apart at the seams as though they had been tugged at for too long and too hard without and proper care. The pieces were falling through her fingers while she was on a free fall with no end in sight.
Souma could catch her if she let him, but doing so would mean allowing him close enough to see her the way she was now. He would see her scars and all. He had been around for the bad times before. She knew that much. She had relied on him. He had been her rock. He had been her saving grace time and time again. If she did not know better she could easily believe that he was not so much a kitsune like her and more of a guardian angel. He was her guardian angel at least.
He had more good in him than the rest of the people from her life combined. Everything he did he did with helping her in mind. She had watched just how hard it had been on him when he had not protected her before. Now something even worse had happened. Undeniably she was the one who had gone through hell today, but it was still likely that this was one of the worst days of his life as well. He took his role as her protector so seriously and somehow it never seemed to work out for him.
Things had been simpler before. Back before they had run away he was the perfect one. He never did anything wrong. He always knew what to do and what to say. He had all the answers back then.
Now he was just as lost as her. Maybe he had been that lost all along and he just hid it better than she did. He never claimed to have all of the answers. That was something she had attributed to him based on her experience, but it was possible that her perception was tainted by her own naivety. He was just a stray kid like her, but he had someone he was trying to look after. Failing at that had to have hit him hard.
As her shaking subsided she started to come to terms with the fact that she would have to accept his help. She had to do it for her own sake as well as for his sake. If she kept pushing him away now she would lose him forever, and that was something she could not bring herself to do. He meant more to her than anything or anyone. Hurting him was as bad as hurting herself.
She would just have to be strong until being around him became easy again. They needed each other right now even if being together was the hardest thing for them to do. If they did not have each other they had nothing.