Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter really made me happy. It was a breeze to revise, which makes me wonder if I missed something huge. I’m sure if I missed anything you guys will let me know.
As always, my supporters deserve a huge thank you for keeping me motivated. You guys rock!
Rina could not say that she was surprised to find Penny and Charlotte in the doctor’s office when she came for her next appointment. She had tried her best to explain her sudden relapse into excessive sleep over the phone, and apparently that had been enough to get her an earlier appointment as well as additional support in the form of Penny.
Seeing both of them together made her feel a bit ganged up on. She glanced back to Hibiki in the waiting room and seriously contemplated running back to drag him in with her just so she did not feel as though she was so obviously outnumbered. That would not do. She was not entirely sure she wanted him to be around to hear some of what she had to say today. There was no telling where the discussion might go and having him there might just make things awkward. She would have to steel her resolve and handle this on her own.
She took a deep breath and took a seat in Dr. Charlotte’s office. As nervous as she felt, she knew that this was all happening so she could feel better.
“I hope you don’t mind that I invited Penny to join us today,” Dr. Charlotte began the session.
“It’s fine. I’ll gladly take any help I can get at this point.”
“One good thing is that we’re here talking together to figure this out this time. Last time you weren’t able to talk or move by the time Penny got involved,” Dr. Charlotte pointed out.
“Yeah. I’d really prefer for it not to reach that point again. The spring semester is going to start soon and I need to be there.”
“Hopefully between the three of us we can get you back on track again,” Penny chimed in.
“The three of us?” Rina asked.
Penny nodded. “Charlotte, you, and me.”
“You think I’m going to be able to help you figure this out?”
“Of course,” Penny replied. “We’re all dealing with new territory here so it only makes sense that we need your opinions and feedback to figure out what is going to work. We don’t have a blueprint for treating this yet.”
“So we still don’t know what’s wrong with me?” Rina asked with a sigh. “We’re just going to be making guesses.”
“We’re going to make some incredibly educated guesses,” Dr. Charlotte chimed in. “We know your symptoms. We have theories about the cause. As long as we work together we can make an effort to determine an appropriate treatment.”
Rina considered it. She trusted both of these women to use their best judgment. If they thought she would be of use to them then she supposed she would have to believe it.
She took a deep breath and did her best to calm her mind. The last thing she needed right now was her nerves getting the best of her. The more nervous she got the less of a handle she had on the rest of her emotions, which resulted in the outbursts and anxiety she had been experiencing over the last few months.
“Okay,” she finally agreed. “I’ll do what I can to help. Just remember that I don’t know anything.”
“You know more than you think,” Dr. Charlotte insisted. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
“I’ll try,” she promised.
“We’re going to put you into a trance to keep you calm while we try to dive into your psyche again,” Penny explained. “Last time you were in a unique situation and I could not do much to prepare you, but you were also not in a position to do anything at all to fight back. We need you to be calm this time.”
“Okay,” Rina agreed, although she felt her heart rate pick up at this urging that she would need to be calm.
Of course, she panicked. Her mind had a funny habit of taking directions and trying to run in the opposite direction. Staying calm when told to remain calm was a nearly impossible feat. She took a deep breath to get a bit of a grip. She had been getting to know Dr. Charlotte bit by bit over the course of her appointments here and she felt that she could trust her judgment of the current situation and the actions that needed to be done. Penny had already been inside her head once before, and the prior experience was enough to make Rina feel as though she could trust her. They had already done something similar together before so she felt confident that they could get through it again.
Dr. Charlotte dove into a more detailed explanation now that Rina had agreed to cooperate. Rina did her best to concentrate, but her panic was not completely under control and her outward calm did not quite equate to a calm and receptive mind. She tried her best to make her own thoughts settle down so she could focus on what was being said and hopefully manage to remember most of it for later.
“This isn’t something we’ll be able to do all in one day, unfortunately. Your psyche is going to need some time to adjust to it all before we can really start to delve into the heart of the matter,” Charlotte explained.
“So, we’re going to do warm up exercises for my psyche?”
“That’s one way of looking at it. We want to avoid causing too great of a shock to your system or we might end up sending you into a coma, and that’s pretty much what we’re trying to avoid in the first place.”
Rina felt all of the calm she had started to accumulate just melt away. None of this sounded like good news at all. The last things she wanted to do was to end up in a coma. Anything she might end up thinking at this point could potentially make her panic all over again, and now she knew just how dangerous panicking would be.
She knew she had no choice. This was the only option she had available to her. She knew she could trust them. She kept telling herself she could trust them. It was the only thought that was keeping her from falling apart right here and now.
“I guess we should get started,” she agreed.
Winter finally started to melt away. Spring had to be just around the corner. Yuzuki knew soon enough Souma would be back to traveling for his job. She needed to broach the topic of her hopeful plan for the spring season before he started to travel again. She wanted to believe he would approve of the plan since he had no other plans made as of yet.
She finished formulating her plan while waiting for Souma to wake up. Over the course of the winter she learned to use the time right after she woke for thinking. Ever since they started sharing a bed she more often than not woke up pinned down by a still sleeping Souma.
The evolution of their relationship did seem to make it easier than ever to get him to give in to her whims. She felt a bit guilty for getting him to indulge her so often now, but she knew he had not completely lost his ability to say no so there was no real reason he was at a disadvantage. Her question could wait until he woke up. Then she would simply ask and get her answer.
Souma woke up and stretched, finally freeing Yuzuki. She waited patiently for the rest of their morning routine to commence. He wrapped his arms around her again and they kissed long and slow as though they had not spent the entire night in constant physical contact.
“Good morning, Yuzu,” he whispered.
“Good morning, Souma,” she replied with a satisfied sigh.
He began running his fingers through her hair, making it clear that he had no intention of letting her out of bed just yet. She closed her eyes and gathered her thoughts.
She opened her eyes again, ready to ask her question and get her answer. “Souma, do you think we could go to the festival this year?”
He paused to think, or perhaps just to tease her a bit by leaving her in suspense. He traced his fingertips along the contours of her body. His eyes very closely followed the path his fingertips took. Goosebumps rose up on her skin seemingly in anticipation of his touch.
She caught him smirking at her, and she knew he would draw out tormenting her until she either gave up or he got what he wanted first. She pushed him onto his back and threw her leg over him to straddle his waist.
“Can we go, please?”
The smirk was still there. That meant he still thought he was in control of the situation. She needed to think of another way to seize control before he tried to distract her again.
“Souma,” she said in her most serious, no nonsense voice, “Will you answer me?”
The smirk that had warned her she was only digging herself deeper into trouble shifted to a full on grin. Now she really was in trouble. She had no choice but to wait and see what he had in store for her now. While she watched him and waited for him to take action she did not see his hands move up to her ribs. She did not see the tickle attack coming at all. She had expected something a bit more devious.
She squealed and quickly scrambled to get away from him. She gathered up all the blankets in her arms and tried to make a run for it out of the bedroom. From the sound of his footfalls she knew he was right behind her. She almost made it to the opposite side of the common room before he caught her.
Souma scooped her up blankets and all started carrying her back to the bedroom. She considered struggling, knowing she could probably get away from him if she caught him off guard, but that would actually play into his plan to distract her from getting an answer to her question. Her mission was to foil his plans for distraction.
“Can we please go to the festival this year?” she asked again.
He looked directly into her eyes, suddenly completely serious. “Why do you want to go?”
Being held so close to him while being interrogated made her a bit uncomfortable. She squirmed. “I’ve never been to the festival before. I want to go this year.”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t you want to go?”
He hesitated, carried her back to their bed, and sat her down. He sat down next to her and she quickly threw a blanket around both of them. The spring thaw might have begun, but the morning air was still freezing cold. She snuggled up to his side and waited.
He took a deep breath before speaking. “There’s a chance Takeshi might be there, you know.”
She poked him in the ribs. “If you’re there with me I have no reason to be afraid.”
He scoffed. “Is it really worth the risk? We worked so hard to get away. Going to the festival might send us right back to where we started.”
“It won’t. We’ll be careful. He probably won’t go anyway. He hardly ever did. Don’t you want to see other kitsune? It’s been so long…”
“Yuzu, I’m just not sure about this.” He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “I want to keep you safe. We don’t know who we can trust.”
“We can trust each other. Doesn’t that put us in the same situation as all of the other families going?”
He laughed softly. “A family of two. We’re at a disadvantage.”
“Only in a fight. We just won’t get into any fights, okay?”
“Why do you want to go so badly?”
She shrugged. “I’ve always wanted to go. Now it might be the only way I’m ever learn more fox magic. It’s supposed to be a celebration of our heritage. Why don’t you want to go?”
“It’s all about politics. Alliances and marriages. We’ll end up bored out of our minds.”
“But if we don’t go to represent ourselves we might as well not exist.”
“Can you at least try to imagine how that might be a good thing?”
She moved so she could look straight into Souma’s eyes. “I don’t want to pretend we don’t exist. If we don’t go this year we’ll probably end up never going.”
“Are you telling me you actually care about the politics behind the festival?”
She hesitated a bit. “I don’t not care about the politics.”
“But what is the real reason you want to go? What could be so important that you suddenly want to take so many risks?”
His question made her think. She knew she wanted to go and that had been enough to make her start up this conversation. Looking for a deeper reason had not seemed necessary. She assumed she would ask if they could go and Souma would agree to go without any real discussion at all. She knew she had been getting her way too much lately and it would have to end eventually. That did not make it any easier to swallow, though. Now she had to wonder why she wanted what she wanted.
“I’m lonely,” she finally admitted. “I love you, but I miss being around other kitsune. I… I wouldn’t want to go back to my family, but there’s a part of me that wants to be part of the crowd again.”
“Is it really that important to you?”
She nodded. “I really want to go. It doesn’t feel right to stay isolated.”
“I guess we’re going then,” he said while slouching a bit from his defeat.
She won this little battle, but the victory did not feel particularly sweet. The last thing she wanted was to do was make him miserable over something that should have been an easy win on her part by her own estimation early this morning. She hugged him. It was the least she could do to for him given their current circumstances.
“I didn’t mean to start a big argument,” she apologized. “I thought you would want to go too. If you really think it’s a bad idea we don’t have to go.”
He kissed her temple. “We’ll go. There’s no sense in shielding you from something you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”
“I am happy.” She smiled.
“Good. Now do you want to have breakfast or should we stay in bed a while longer?” he whispered in her ear.
“It’s cold out there. Let’s stay in bed where it’s warm.”
“Sounds good to me,” Souma purred.
He gently pushed her down onto the bed and covered her with his body. He kissed her softly and she melted almost immediately. She did not know how they had managed to miss starting their mornings like this for so long.