Cover by A. R. Shellnut
Oh this chapter! Everyone, this is the first chapter of this novel that isn’t being posted in its entirety. I went back and forth on this and opted to post a fade to black version of the chapter here. The full ebook might end up having the uncut version, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. This might not even be an issue in the next draft!
My supporters deserve a huge thank you! Knowing that you are out there waiting for the next chapter keeps me going.
As winter break continued on Rina found it harder and harder to wake up in the morning. She could feel the cycle starting over again. She knew it was happening this time. She could not ignore it and hope it would go away on its own this time. She knew it was not something she could handle on her own.
She felt awful. She felt ashamed. She knew she needed to tell her doctor as soon as possible or she would end up back in the hospital. She also felt obligated to keep Hibiki in the loop. She was still a guest in his family home and she felt as though he deserved to know.
He did not have to be told as it turned out. She had been sleeping more and more and he noticed that almost as quickly as she did. He confronted her about it before she gathered up the nerve to speak up herself.
“Are you feeling poorly?” he asked when she woke up late one morning in early January.
Her brain was still foggy, and the chilly weather made her just want to snuggle deeper into the blankets. She did not want to think about anything, certainly not anything as terribly upsetting as this. She knew she could not ignore his question for long, and hiding in bed seemed at least a bit less tempting once she realized he was already up and dressed for the day.
She sat up and tried to rub the sleep from her eyes. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Eleven hours if you didn’t wake up at all over night.”
She groaned and hid her face in her hands. This sounded familiar. She went through this once already. As much as she had worried about not feeling quite like herself lately she had not given enough concern to the possibility of her health would decline again. Her mother had warned her about this, and she had fought her tooth and nail, believing she knew it would not happen again. Now she was forced to admit that she was relapsing, and she had no idea what she had done to cause it to happen. If anything she had been downright lazy since coming to stay with Hibiki. They spent most of their time watching movies and playing games. It was not a strenuous life she had been leading.
Nothing she had been doing should have made her so tired. Something was certainly wrong. She wanted to cry. It was so unfair!
“Do you think you should call the doctor?” he asked gently.
She nodded. She did not trust herself to speak at the moment. Tears were already welling up in her eyes.
“Oh Rina,” he said softly.
He sat down next to her on the bed and gathered her up in his arms. That was enough to break down whatever power had held back her the worst of her tears so far. Having his support freed her up to be utterly terrified of what the future might hold for her now. She pressed her face against his shirt, not caring in the least if she soaked him with her tears at this point. She could not stop her tears or the terrified sobbing sounds that now erupted from her throat.
“I don’t want to go back to the hospital,” she sniffled.
“I won’t let them put you in the hospital again. We’ll get Dr. Charlotte to help before it comes to that. If she still won’t do anything without reviewing your case for a while longer then we’ll go back to Penny. She helped you once before. We’ll get you well again before you know it.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want another temporary fix.”
“If we don’t have a permanent solution it would at least buy us some time,” he argued.
“I’m just afraid I’m never going to find out what is going on.”
“Don’t say that. We’re making progress towards an answer. This is no time to think that way. I’m here with you to make sure you will find a cure.”
“Who knows how long it will take. Do you really think that you’ll still want to be here if this goes on for years?”
The look in his eyes warned her that he was not amused by her questioning his loyalty to her. Shame forced her to look away.
She should never have said that. She realized it almost as soon as the words left her mouth, but those words were out there now. They had spent enough time in her head. She had to imagine they needed to be said sooner rather than later.
Curiosity got the better of her and she ever so cautiously glanced back over at him. His eyes had softened in the time she had looked away.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why would you say that? I’m not going to leave you because you aren’t well.”
“You deserve to be with someone healthy.”
“I want to be with you.”
“Don’t you think you might end up regretting the waste of time someday?”
His eyes flashed with anger again. “I love you, you idiot. That’s not going to change and I’m not going to regret it.”
“Did you just call me an idiot?”
“I did. Sorry. I’m not exactly okay with hearing you doubt my feelings for you.”
“I think I have been an idiot,” she admitted.
“You’re just upset,” he assured her.
“That’s no excuse. Doubting you like that… I could tell it hurt you as soon as I said it. I never meant to hurt you.”
“It’s okay. I know you didn’t say it intending to hurt me. I shouldn’t have allowed it to bother me as much as it did.”
“You had every right to be bothered by it. It was faithless for me to think that way.”
He pulled her closer. “You just need to rest right now. We’ll get this straightened out soon and then you’ll feel better.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to fall asleep and not wake up again,” she confessed in a half-whisper.
“I’ll be here to wake you up. I promise I won’t let you go through the hell you went through last time.”
Ever since Souma mentioned war Yuzuki started to see signs of the stress and worry of impending destruction in the eyes of everyone she met. The tavern was always so full, there were always so many fights because they had all already given up hope. Here they were in the middle. They would not be attacked for choosing a side, but they would not be protected by choosing to remain neutral. The warlords were not interested in making alliances with nobodies so there was not even a way to pick a side. One day the war would come and everything here would be in ruin.
Winter had finally arrived in earnest. Traveling into the village was out of the question most days, and even going outside at all was not worth it when a snow storm kicked up. Souma even stayed home a lot more lately due to the weather. Since the weather turned bad they had spent more time together in their little home than ever before. It was not quite the fun adventure at playing house she had hoped it would be.
Cabin fever set in hard and fast. Yuzuki had already been staying in more and more because of the cold so she felt stir crazy in no time at all. For Souma staying put in one place for too long was all it took to set him off. They were both tense and on edge, and that meant Yuzuki had a lot of time to think, and to worry.
Keeping her hands busy helped keep her mind from going to too dark of a place, but she could not keep herself busy day and night. Unfortunately sleep did not come easily after a day of staying in and trying to find ways to keep busy. Laying in bed gave her plenty of opportunity to think about all of the troublesome things she had managed to tuck away in the corners of her mind during the day.
It started as worry, but her pent up energy quickly took hold of those thoughts and reshaped them into fear and terror. She could not sleep like this even if she had been tired. Shadows became figures waiting in the darkness for her to close her eyes for even a second. Her father… one of the smugglers that did not particularly like Souma being in charge… anyone mad enough to travel in this weather really would be enough to keep her from sleep.
She knew she was going down a dangerous road with this line of thinking, but she was at a loss as to how to stop herself. Eventually, she did realize that she did not have to deal with this on her own. It might be a little bit on the cruel side, but she could always apologize later. She just needed to suppress her fears enough to find the courage to cross the room.
Finally, her courage built up enough to allow her to get out from under the covers. She was shocked by how cold the air was once she was outside of her blanket cocoon. The floor was cold enough to make her gasp. Any part of her mind that might have been ready to go to sleep was now thoroughly and fully awake.
She hurried across the room and slipped under Souma’s blankets without so much as a word. No matter how quickly or smoothly she jumped in it was a foregone conclusion that doing so would wake him up.
“What are you doing?” he asked sleepily.
“Coming to sleep with you,” she replied sweetly.
“You haven’t done that in a while. What’s going on?”
She shrugged. Talking to him about what was bothering her would not do anything to help her get to sleep sooner, and really all she wanted to do was fall asleep so she could avoid thinking in general for a few hours. Everything would be much easier if they could just go to sleep.
“It’s cold tonight, I guess,” she answered to avoid any of the answers closer to the real truth.
“I guess it is,” he agreed. He put an arm around her and held her close. “So I guess I’ll just have to warm you up.”
She smiled. There was just no way she could protest getting warmed up by Souma. After leaving her bed she had somehow managed to get very cold in just a matter of seconds. The shared body heat got rid of the chill quickly enough. Now there was only the small matter of actually being able to fall asleep.
Even here warm and secure in the knowledge that no harm would come to her she could not even begin to feel like sleeping. She did not like it. Now she felt as though she could not even toss and turn as she normally would because it would serve to alert Souma to the fact that she was not entirely honest about her reasons for getting in his bed. Feeling some onerous amount of guilt over not being able to sleep did her no good at all.
“Hey Souma?” she whispered.
“Yeah?” he mumbled in reply.
She cringed a bit upon realizing he had already managed to fall back asleep. Her intention had not been to wake him up twice in one night, but having him awake again did serve her purposes and she could not take it back now that the deed was done and he was awake.
“I can’t sleep,” she confessed.
“Have you tried closing your eyes?”
“Of course. I’m just not tired.”
He sighed. “I guess I’ll have to keep you company until you can sleep.”
He propped himself up on one arm and looked down at her.
She blushed and tried to convince herself that she had no idea why she was blushing. Lying to herself was probably not the healthiest strategy in the world, but admitting to herself that she was in some way less than entirely innocent seemed wrong. At times she still thought of herself as too young to understand the finer points of adult relationships. Slowly she was growing to accept that she was more of an adult now than a child, but at any moment of high tension she had a tendency to revert back to thinking of herself as a mere child.
Souma had become quite skilled at making her feel grown up. The sudden change in her attitude mostly hinged on their current location. They had remained in their own beds ever since their relationship had started to change. To be in bed with him, and to see him looking at her that way made her feel very grown up. As much as she wanted to pretend everything was the same, and simple again she also wanted to grow up.
She found herself distinctly aware now that being in the same bed as him was no longer an innocent decision. Being here in bed with him opened up a number of possibilities she had not really considered before this moment. Her body was more than ready to throw caution to the wind, but her mind was a bit more hesitant.
She trusted Souma more than anyone else in the world, but the idea of sex was particularly frightening to her. All of her prior experience — if one could even call it that — was extremely negative. She wanted to believe everything would be better with Souma, but a part of her was still afraid to willingly allow herself to be so vulnerable. She did not want to get hurt. Of everyone she knew she trusted Souma to keep her safe from harm most of all. She had to wonder what was wrong with her if she was still so afraid while under the care of the one she trusted more than anyone.
As she continued to look at him and grew more acutely aware of the proximity of their bodies her concerns started to melt away. His gaze made her ache for his touch. She longed for him to do something, and realized he would not make the first move. He allowed her to set the pace and the one to make the first move would have to be her. Usually she was more than grateful that he had so much respect for her and permitted her to decide on the boundaries. Now she just wished he would read her mind and make a move.
“Are you going to kiss me or not?”
That turned out to be the only encouragement he needed. He kissed her with weeks worth of pent up passion. Her heart raced as all logic and reason seemed to be chased out of her by feelings that she finally allowed to run unbridled. The kisses they shared were slow, almost painfully slow considering the rise in passionate urges Yuzuki experienced as each kiss settled into the pit of her stomach and culminated in a yearning that grew to a white hot heat.