Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter is a bit shorter than the others have been lately. I’m actually okay with that because I worry that the story is becoming too long already. What do you think?
Thank you to all of my supporters. Your support keeps me from procrastinating. Without you I might never bother to post my chapters at all.
Her worries must have gotten to Hibiki more than she originally thought. He encouraged her to make an appointment as soon as possible and promised to give her a ride there and back no matter when the appointment might be. She realized then that her concerns might be a bit more serious than she had allowed herself to believe. She knew she had a tendency to worry about silly little things so she had developed a system where she tried her best to suppress her worries to the best of her ability unless she had some sort of outside proof that there might be something real to worry about. If she did not at least make some sort of effort to keep this system in place she would be stuck worrying about every little thing all day long.
Hibiki sharing her concern was the sort of validation that pretty much sent her into full-blown worry. It might have hurt more in the short term to hear him tell her that she was being ridiculous, but she could get over that. Knowing that he thought something might be going on with her that was influencing her with experiences that were not her own just made her head spin. There was no question about it now. She needed a professional to step in and fix this. Getting to the point where she could get it fixed might be difficult, though.
Penny had acted based on her gut feelings and was not bound by the same rules as an actual doctor. Now that her case had been passed on to someone with more experience, and a medical background, there seemed to be more hoops to jump through. Dr. Charlotte did not want to do anything hastily. She collected her information by just letting Rina talk, and rarely even asked questions. Her extensive notes did seem to imply that Rina’s rambling was giving her the sort of information the doctor needed to eventually form a diagnosis.
Now Rina had a feeling that time was running out. She needed to pressure Dr. Charlotte to do more than passively collect information and hope that talking and getting her problems out of her own head would be enough. She needed an actual course of treatment.
Going to the doctor and just demanding results was not really her style, but at this point, she could not see any other option available to her. Waiting was only making things worse and talking was not helping her at all. She needed results before she completely lost her mind, or got any more confused about who she really was. Already she sometimes felt as though there was a part of her that was her other self. That could not be normal. She was only one person. She should only have one self, and she certainly should not be feeling an identity crisis over some person she only knew of in her dreams.
Getting the outcome she hoped for might be impossible. She had to at least keep that in the back of her mind otherwise she would end up greatly disappointed. She could fight as hard as she wanted, but if there was nothing the doctor could do then she would either have to learn to cope with the cards life had dealt her or continue searching for a solution elsewhere. This possibility did cause her confidence to waver a bit and she had to wonder if it was actually worth it to pressure Dr. Charlotte to try to do something. Having Hibiki go along with her and his constant support in her investigation into what was happening to her mind gave her the small, extra push she needed to keep herself from backing down.
She pulled all of the strength she could into fortifying her will to see this appointment through. It was not that she thought her willpower might have any effect on the outcome of things, but she needed it just to get herself to speak the words that needed to be said and hope for the best. She just needed to find the power to ask for these things and then to wait for an answer and hope for the best. She had to brace herself for having no control of the outcome.
“Will you come in with me?” she leaned over to ask him in a hushed whisper.
“Are you sure you want me there?” he whispered back, adopting the same volume she had used.
She nodded. She felt more positive about this than anything else all day. She knew that she needed him there with her to get through this. Her willpower would not last without him there. His presence would give her strength and keep her from faltering. The task at hand seemed so daunting to her. She was already tempted to turn away and take a path of less resistance. That would not do anything to solve her problems, though, and she could no longer put off finding a solution. Her mind was constantly going in circles and she needed someone to get her out of this never ending loop of worry. She would only be strong enough to do what she needed to do if Hibiki was at her side. Otherwise she would falter and this entire day would be a waste.
It was not her usual appointment time and Dr. Charlotte had squeezed her in between other appointments. They did not have much time.
Inside they talked to Charlotte. She did her best to reassure Rina that everything would turn out okay. She said she would review the notes from their previous meetings in regards to Rina’s current concerns. They made another full-scale appointment for later, and the doctor insisted that Rina call if she had any concerns before her next appointment. It was not the sort of instant solutions Rina had hoped for, but she was grateful that she at least had expressed her concerns and now had hope of finding a solution. She could not help but feel that she was running out of time though.
Hisako eventually did have a chance to share some first-hand experience with Yuzuki. Most days she still spent her time cleaning and preparing supplies while her teacher drilled her on whatever topic that came to mind. The drills came in handy when she was put to a practical test and had to help Hisako tend to a youkai cut badly enough that his guts very nearly spilled out onto the floor.
That day Yuzuki learned that she was not yet beyond feeling squeamish about certain things. Even so she knew what to do, and finally had a chance to put it to use. Somehow she managed to stay calm and assist her teacher in sewing the patient up again.
After that experience, Yuzuki felt as though she was prepared for just about anything. Even the thought of assisting with childbirth did not make her as squeamish as it did before. She felt as though she could take on anything. There was a lot she knew she still needed to learn, and she needed more practical experience, but now she felt confident that she could learn it all and possibly even be good at it some day.
Her newfound experience and self-confidence boiled down to nothing when Souma arrived home unexpectedly early one morning beaten and bloody. She was too worried about determining how much of the blood was his to ask too many questions.
He did not seem to be terribly inclined to divulge any information about how this had happened at all. She quickly discovered that the gash on his arm was deeper than the rest and needed stitches. Her mind was soon occupied making a mental inventory of the supplies she had available and what she could most easily convert to her current cause.
Since he did not seem to be on the verge of passing out from blood loss and the actual blood coming from even his worst cut had slowed to a trickle she felt fairly certain she could leave him and gather up all of her supplies without having to worry about him passing out.
She sewed him up, cleaned and bandaged him, and he still remained silent on the subject of where the injuries came from. Concern and curiosity both pressed her to say something, but his silence was so oppressive that she found it difficult to break it. With him now as whole as she was able to make him her mind was free to focus on breaking through the walls he had put up.
Fighting her way behind those walls proved to be a task she was not at all sure she was equal to. Every angle she tried to approach seemed as impassable as the last. Finally she decided she would just have to be as direct as possible.
“What happened?” she asked gently as she finally took a moment to sit down after a flurry of activity. “I didn’t think anyone could get the best of you in a fight.”
He glared at her. Not too long ago a look like that would have shaken her nerves greatly, but she was somehow made of tougher stuff now. She trusted him. She could tell his frustration was directed at himself rather than her. She just needed to understand why he was so angry.
“Souma, are you in trouble?”
“But you were in trouble?”
He sighed heavily and looked up. Yuzuki felt a bit guilty about pushing him, but she did not think that she could move on without understanding what had happened. She was worried that he might hide something from her that could in some way hurt his recovery. He was her patient right now after all. She would be remiss if she did not give him the best care possible.
“I never should have let my guard down. I just thought I’d gotten rid of the ones I couldn’t trust. Serves me right for being so stupid.”
“The others did this to you?”
An old bolt of terror tore through her at the thought. Once again she wished that he would get out of his current line of work. It was too dangerous to do such a job with a group of people that could not be trusted. She wanted to tell him, but she could not come up with a way to express herself without sounding like she was handing him an ultimatum. On one hand she wanted to just tell him what to do because she knew she could keep him safe that way, but on the other hand, she knew that he would not be happy if he felt as though he was pressured to do so by her. She did not want to think about being the one making him miserable by asking him to give up doing something he really wanted to do.
She wished she could just be supportive of him. He had been great about encouraging her with her plans to become a healer. Now she was seriously contemplating telling him to just abandon his job. Then again she did not know if he even liked his job, or how he came to do what he did in the first place.
She had plenty of time to worry about these things as Souma had stopped responding to her questions. He just sat there and avoided making eye contact with her.
The silence was more than Yuzuki could stand so she got up to make them both some tea. She did not bother to ask if he wanted some since he obviously did not feel like talking. She decided he would take her tea and he would like it.
She placed a cup of tea in front of him and made a carefully calculated point to make eye contact with him and hold it for as long as possible. He might have been hurt, but that only gave him license to act like a jerk for so long. There were things that she needed to know for her own peace of mind, and his tension was visible. He needed to talk so he could relax and start to heal.
“Why do you keep working with those jerks? You should just do things on your own rather than work with a bunch of shady youkai you can’t trust.”
“Don’t you think I would do this on my own if I could? I would be able to keep all of the rewards for myself if I could. I can’t though, and we’re not exactly swimming in alliances here, Yuzu. It’s either them or I do nothing.”
She glared at him. He did not need to talk to her like that.
“I don’t like to see you hurt, and I don’t like the idea of you working with people that might try to kill you.”
He finally looked at her. His gaze was hard and ice cold. “Did you forget how I ended up in charge? Only the strongest get to stay on top.”
“I remember the way you got to be in charge, and I don’t want the same to happen to you.”
“I’m getting stronger all the time. I’ll be fine.”
“Is this fine? What if you’d been hurt a little worse and you couldn’t make it home to me?”
“I wouldn’t let that happen.”
“Are you out of your mind? You can’t control everything that happens. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I’m right here.”
She sighed. She just could not understand why he did not understand what she was saying. He was not listening and she was furious.
“You’re such an idiot, Souma. I love you and I just want you to be safe.”
He paused, the antagonism in his demeanor melted away. He leaned forward and stroked her cheek. His eyes were locked on hers. She could see the hardness in his eyes slowly melt away, but she struggled to understand the tumult of emotions she saw in his eyes.
She could only guess what it was that she had said that stopped him — that stopped their entire argument dead in its tracks. Whatever it was she was glad it happened. The conversation had spun out of control and she did not trust herself to keep going without saying something that she would regret down the road. Calling him an idiot even crossed the line a bit in her opinion, but she saw it as part of the package deal that got the results so she did not know how to feel about it.
Her heart was pounding in her chest and she could hardly think with him staring at her the way he was so she could not safely say how long they sat there just looking into each others’ eyes. Time had no meaning at the moment, which made it all that much easier for her mind to start playing tricks on her.
“Are you want to be making a declaration of love to me, Yuzu?”
She nodded. “Probably not the best timing in the world, but I meant it.”
“Even if I am an idiot?”
“I’m sorry I called you an idiot.”
He smiled and she felt a wave of relief knowing that everything was going to be okay again. He was not angry. Sh had apologized. Everything would go back to being the way it should be.
He moved over to sit next to her and put his uninjured arm around her shoulders. She leaned against him, finally allowing herself to relax a bit after going from panic and concern straight to anger. Knowing he was here with her, safe, and sure to heal up just fine was a huge load off her mind.
“I’m doing it for us, you know. I want to be able to take you far away from here, but it takes money to get established pretty much everywhere. A lot of money.”
“Why would we need to go away from here?”
“This place is fine for now, but you have to know that the wars are never far off. We’ll be fine right here since we’re technically not in the world, but sooner or later everything around here is going to get swept up in those power struggles. Once the fighting spreads here everything outside will be a wasteland for who know how far.”
“I haven’t heard anyone say anything about the fighting spreading over here. I hardly ever even hear about it here. Not like back in my father’s village.”
“No one around here has a stake in the outcome of these battles other than trying to survive. Takeshi is actually strong enough to make the other youkai think twice about letting their fights spill over onto his territory.”
“You’re pretty strong too. Couldn’t you make them not fight here? That way we could stay and we wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore.”
He sighed and held her a bit tighter.
“I’m not really all that strong in the grand scheme of things. Yet. And it’s not just about being strong. I’d need alliances with the right youkai as well, and they don’t want anything to do with me because I’m nobody.”
“You’re not nobody,” she insisted about as firmly as she possibly could.
He kissed the corner of her mouth.
“I love you, Yuzu, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you are safe and happy.”
“And it makes me happy to know you are safe and unhurt, so don’t go around taking risks trying to make me happy. Just be here with me and I’ll be glad.”