Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This was one of those chapters that was harder to write than to edit. I hope that doesn’t mean I just missed a lot of problems in the chapter. Let me know if I missed anything!
As always, this chapter is made possible by my fantastic supporters. Thank you so much!
She managed to get to her therapy appointment without intruding on the lives of any of her friends. Staying in Corine’s room was enough of a burden. She got out of her mother’s house to regain some of her freedom, and she did not want to pile her problems on to someone else and take away their freedom along with hers.
It took a lot more effort to do it all on her own, but she took a great deal of pride in making the effort to handle her personal affairs on her own. She just wished that she did not need to take a train to get to the bus that would take her to Dr. Charlotte’s office, but doing it all on her own was better than being more of a burden than was absolutely necessary. She needed to figure out how to be more independent. She did not like relying on her friends to give her a place to stay right now, but she did not have the means to have her own place at the moment.
She still had to figure out what she was going to do over the winter break. Staying in the dorms would only work as long as the dorms were open to her. Winter break was fast approaching and she needed to figure out where she would live when that time came. She had plenty of time to think about it on the train ride, and she quickly passed through just thinking to outright worrying.
She managed to miss out on that natural state of being by occupying all of her waking hours over the past few days. She did not know if she had the ability to continue in this state for much longer, and now this train ride proved that she could not maintain the worry free state of being for too long. Something always managed to enter her thoughts and catch in her mind in a way that would not permit it to escape again easily.
So far she could not manage to keep her mind from catching these stray thoughts in a reliable manner. She had tried to keep her thoughts better under control, but they always managed to get back out of her hands again before she had much of a respite.
The distraction of being back on campus and so often in Corine’s company actually provided her mind with such an overload of silly thoughts and ideas that nothing had much of a chance of catching hold and forming into a worry. She liked that aspect of being back on campus again.
On the other hand, she hated the lack of connectedness she had on campus. She had only been away for a few weeks. All of her friends were still there. She saw them and she got to spend time with them. That part was great. She felt as though she was not losing her place in the fabric of her college life. That was a relief. Not having any classes of her own made her feel out of place, though. Everyone else had places they had to be throughout the day. She was just sort of aimless.
A lot of her time ended up being spent in the library. Corine insisted she could stay in her room during her classes and her roommate provided a noncommittal shrug of agreement with the statement, but Rina still felt as though she was intruding by staying in the room while her friend was out for most of the day. The library was the perfect place for her. It was quiet and she always had something to do to occupy her time there. She also took the opportunity to meet with everyone she could to make sure she would be able to rejoin her classmates for the spring semester. Fortunately, none of the classes she ended up not completing this semester were required prerequisites for her spring classes. Getting early confirmation that she would be able to get back to normal and continue on with her studies in the next semester took a load off her mind.
Getting those worries out of her mind only made more room for other sorts of concerns to move to the forefront. Those worries were the main reason she really pushed herself to get over here to see Dr. Charlotte.
Her dreams had gone from strange to terrifying and emotionally scarring. Even when she could not remember all of the details of the dream — it was not the sort of thing she tried to remember and she dared not repeat what she dreamed to her friends — she still found herself feeling overly anxious.
She needed to talk about it. She realized holding it inside made it all that much worse. Talking about it with her friends at college seemed out of the question. They would ask too many questions. She did not have the answers. What she needed herself was answers. Her friends were possibly even more in the dark than she was at this point. At least she had the advantage of having thought about this for hours upon hours every day and having talked through some of her current issues with Dr. Charlotte. The friends she had around her to confide in had neither of those advantages. There would be a lot of questions that would do her no good. She needed to have her own questions answered rather than fielding questions when there was no hope of getting greater insight into her problem.
When she noticed the train was growing close to her stop she tried to regain her composure. She could hide her distress well enough while sitting on the train, but in the station and on the walk down to the bus stop she would be widely visible to the general public and the idea of an unknown number of strangers seeing her in a visible state of distress scared her more than just about anything. She would rather hold all of the stuff that was bother her in than let people know something was bothering her and have that get to her too.
She knew this would probably end up giving her enough material for a dozen more appointments with Dr. Charlotte. It was not exactly the problem she needed to be fixed immediately, but seeing as her fear of sharing her worries was at least tangentially relate to the things she worried about she had a feeling they would need to be addressed at some point. She was just glad she already knew someone who could help her get through it professionally rather than just relying on her friend who did not really understand where she was coming from and gave her advice that really did not apply to her based on her own personality and personal feelings.
The bus ride was shorter than the train ride. She had an easier time coping with it now. She could keep her thoughts under control because she knew she would have the chance to unburden everything that had been weighing on her mind lately in just a few minutes. That made it all better to a degree. The parts that were not better were at least put on hold for the time being because she could see a time when she would be better able to deal with the troubles on her mind.
As luck would have, her bus managed to be delayed just enough so she got off at her stop when her appointment was supposed to start. She got off the bus and ran to the office building. She ran the entire way and much to her own surprise she ended up being only five minutes late to her appointment.
She sat down opposite Dr. Charlotte with her heart still racing, out of breath. As usual, the doctor seemed completely at ease. While still appearing empathetic and willing to listen she seemed to be less than concerned by the way Rina entered the office. She behaved in exactly the way Rina hoped a doctor would act. She was an excellent listener, and she never gave advice where it was not wanted and needed, and somehow she knew without being asked when the time for advice had arrived.
After all of the thought she put into what she would say, Rina found herself stalling and stuttering as she tried to find a way to get those words from her head and out her mouth. She could practically see her chance to unburden herself to the one person she could trust to listen and only provide advice if it was of a sort that could be genuinely useful slipping through her fingertips.
She heard hear words faltering as her thoughts fell apart on her. It was all too much happening at once. Even with a plan she could still get messed up by something as simple as her bus being late. The run had managed to jostle the order of everything she wanted to say from a well formed and thought out discussion of her experiences and her dreams to a jumbled mess of fragmented ideas that would make no sense in their current state.
She stopped and took a deep breath to clear her thoughts and tried again. This time she just tried to get herself back to a more orderly place rather than trying to pretend nothing had gone wrong in the first place. Getting the thoughts out of her head and finally expressed took priority over imagining more ideal circumstances for the start of this appointment. Nothing could change the way things already were, but she could hopefully gain some peace of mind by finding a way for a better future to happen.
With a clearer mind, she found a better grip on what she needed to do to make this appointment worth her time. A lot of terrible, awful things had been happening inside her own head lately. She needed to know why, where those sort of ideas were coming from, and how she could make them go away.
Once she started talking she found details from her dreams that she had not even recalled before now. That made her feel as though she was actually making this all up. How could she talk about things she did not remember unless she was making up as she went along? The things she found herself saying did not feel like lies, though. They fit right along with the dreams she had and were more gruesome than she thought she would be able to ever imagine on her own.
That brought to one of her biggest questions. How could she dream about something she did not even know existed before the dreams started happening?
Soon enough she found her way back to spilling out the words again. Charlotte knew everything there was to know about the dreams Rina had been having lately and the way it had changed the way she thought about the world. She found herself worrying about the sort of things that never really concerned her before. She felt as though she was jumping at her own shadow. It was not the sort of thing she thought she was capable of doing.
Getting all of her worries out there in the open once and for all at least left her with a feeling of relief. Somehow without her even realizing it, these worries and notions had wormed their way into her brain and worn away at her self-confidence until she felt as though she was jumping at shadows.
Now she just hoped talking about it would end up making her feel like she was getting back to normal again. The downward spiral her dreams had sent her on lately made her wonder if she could even trust her own judgment about anything. Not trusting herself meant she had to rely entirely on the opinion of someone she could trust. Right now the only person who knew enough to be able to help was Dr. Charlotte. She just hoped that she had enough of her senses remaining to her to make a sound judgment on the doctor’s character and actual ability to help.
After sleeping so much over the course of several days bed time proved to be a rather difficult time for Yuzuki. She surprised herself by actually feeling tired, but she could not get herself to fall asleep. There was just no signal going to her brain that it was time to stop for the day and let her rest. She hoped that her body had not grown accustomed to the medication for sleep because she had already vowed that she was done with the stuff. She needed to deal with things as they came rather than avoid them.
She just wished she could go to sleep though. She was so tired and laying in the dark with nothing better to do than think led her mind to all sorts of dark places. Those places just threw her into a downward spiral and she could not handle that sort of mental exertion at the moment. She knew she needed rest to heal and getting herself all worked up was no way to get that rest.
Tossing and turning only managed to make her wiggle her way out of her blanket, which she immediately regretted because this night was particularly chilly. She got her bed back into order as quickly as she could in the dark, but by the time it was done her bed was quite chilly. There almost seemed like no point in getting back in bed. It was no longer warm and she was in no way able to sleep at the moment.
When she closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep she ended up seeing and feeling half-remembered hands groping at her body. She shuddered at the thought. Allowing herself to get into that sort of mind space was not doing her any good. She needed to feel safe so she could get some real sleep rather than experience any more lucid nightmares.
The worst part was not being sure if she was remembering something that had really happened or if this was her brain trying to fill in the blanks for the time she had no way of remembering. She knew she had been knocked unconscious for a while. She still had a bump on the back of her head to show for it. She had had a headache for two days straight thanks to it and that was in part what had started her on her habit of constantly taking some medicine for the pain.
That pain was gone now. Physically she still ached and her bruises were still quite tender to the touch, but she could definitely say she was on the mend and being young was definitely on her side on this one. She was bouncing back and she was fairly confident that with a bit more time she could at least put the physical effects of it all in the past.
Her mind drifted to other effects of her assault. She would have to take more of that disgusting concoction Souma had created tomorrow. She had hoped at least a bit that there would be almost instantaneous signs that it had worked, but so far there was no sign of her having her cycle jump started. She hoped it would happen soon so she could stop worrying about it, and so she would not have to drink any more of her medicine for it.
The moon was out and providing at least a bit of light so she could see around the room. Souma’s bed was against the opposite wall and he was already sleeping soundly. She could not begrudge him for his sleep. He had hardly slept at all for days. He should probably sleep all day tomorrow to make up for it, but she knew he would not do that and would probably be up before her and work all day again. He was tough like that and dedicated to his responsibilities. At the same time, he would probably deny her any responsibility for her usual chores and would probably try to do them all for her. She promised herself she would try to do as many of them as she could anyway just to make things a little bit easier on him.
She knew the sleeping thing was not going to work for her when she realized she had been sitting on top of her bed all of this time instead of being nestled inside of her covers where she could at least be warm. She was afraid to get back into bed. That was where the bad thoughts had come to her. The bed was tainted, at least for now. She could not sleep there even if her brain was ready for sleep now.
On top of being tired, now she was cold. This night was just not going her way. She did not know what else she could do. If she had the energy she would just go find something productive to do elsewhere at least so she would stop feeling so cold. She was too cold to sit still, that was for sure.
Souma’s bed looked warm, and she would not have to be afraid over there. She would not be alone. He would protect her from anything and everything that might come to hurt her. She was confident that included awful, insidious thoughts in her own mind.
Now she just needed to figure out how to get into the sanctuary that was Souma’s bed. He was already there himself so space would be limited. He himself was the most important part of the equation so close quarters were not truly a setback. She mostly needed to decide if she should wake him up first or just go for it and climb into his bed and explain everything when he woke up, which he most likely would do instantly because she did not imagine that he was particularly used to having anyone climbing into his bed while he slept. If she did decide to just climb in there was a chance that he might react negatively. Then again, he might react badly if she woke him up as well.
Her feet were too cold for her to keep worrying about this. She decided to just go for it and get in his bed. At least there she would be warm and safe from the dark thoughts.
She tiptoed across the room and slipped under the covers as quickly as possible so she did not disturb him by letting in any more cold air than was absolutely necessary. She laid there perfectly still and did not even dare to breathe at first because she did not know what would happen next.
Of all the things she had expected she had not anticipated him putting an arm around her to pull her closer and mumbling in her ear, “Your feet are cold.”
She had expected a question at least. All she got was a very mildly worded complaint that was most likely said to her without him even being fully awake. He was not wrong though. She knew she had been cold, but in his bed she realized she had been freezing. He was so warm he might as well be on fire. She hesitantly snuggled closer, just to warm up that was all it was for, and his arm tightened around her. Of all the places she had imagined she would end up she had never thought she would end up pinned tight to Souma’s chest while he continued to sleep as though there was nothing the least bit strange about what was happening at the moment.
Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure he would feel it and wake up, but that did not happen either. None of her predictions were coming true tonight.
He nuzzled his face into her hair. “It’s okay, Yuzu,” he whispered.
“Okay,” she agreed.
“Some nights I don’t want to be alone either.”
His hand slowly started to stroke her hair. She found it very relaxing and soon her eyelids started to grow heavy. She just had to wonder how he was able to do and say those things while as far as she could tell he was still just as asleep as ever. None of it really mattered though because it worked and she was able to relax and fall asleep finally.