Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter was interesting to write, but a little more difficult to revise. I spent a lot of time messing with it and I feel like I didn’t end up changing a lot considering the amount of time I spent on it. Let me know if I missed anything!
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Rina felt numb after her latest appointment with Dr. Charlotte. Even now she did not fully understand what had happened. That terrified her, and the fear caused her to shut down.
Hibiki tried asking her questions, but he soon gave up as she was only frustrated by her inability to answer with anything other than “I don’t know.” She knew it sounded like she just did not want to talk about it, but she really was frustratingly in the dark about what had happened. She tried to hide her frustration, but it just led to her shutting down completely.
The car ride remained mostly silent after she shut down all of Hibiki’s questions with her own inability to answer. This just gave her more time to stop feeling altogether. She knew on some level that suppressing everything like this would probably make it even harder once she allowed it to resurface, but she could not bring herself to deal with anything right now. She repressed as much and as intensely as she possibly could.
She was put in front of the fireplace by Hibiki, and even so she took quite a while to thaw out again. She was shocked that he waited. She knew by now she should know better than to be surprised by these things, but it never ceased to amaze her when he proved that his patience was nearly superhuman.
His presence was a small comfort, but she was still overwhelmed as her mind resumed the task of trying to process what had happened. She sat quietly for a while long even though she was coming back to herself. She felt as though she needed some time before she tried talking again.
“How long have I been sitting here?” she finally mustered up the willpower to whisper.
“Almost an hour,” he answered. He cautiously reached out and took her hand in his.
She jumped at his touch but did not pull away. She still felt out of sync with her body so any sensation at all was a startling experience.
There was still so much left to process, and she did not know if she was strong enough to handle it all. Just that realization was enough to make her feel very small and very alone.
She turned to Hibiki. With him here she would never be alone. She scooted closer so she could put her arms around him in an awkward hug. He held her and did not say a word. She was grateful for his silence.
These few moments of silence were all she could ask for. She tried her best to gather her thoughts, to organize her mind so she had a chance to figure out what she actually felt about all of this. She had to stay intensely focused or the numbness tried to worm its way back in.
“I just don’t know what to say,” she admitted finally.
“You don’t have to say anything. I know your treatment has been pretty intense lately. I understand.”
Rina sighed. “I want to talk about it. I just don’t know how to start.”
“Start with whatever is on your mind. I’m here to listen.”
She tried to think and realized she had no idea what was even going on in her own mind. She felt a headache coming on.
“We tried to do past life regression today, and I think it might have worked. Which is good! It’s just that apparently what Dr. Charlotte and Penny experienced while I was not myself was not very nice. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t even know exactly what happened, to be honest, but I know enough to be able to say it wasn’t good.”
Once she started talking the words just started to tumble out of her mouth. She felt a little bit frightened by what she was saying. Obviously, she knew more than she realized about what had happened. Repressing was not a newly acquired skill in her repertoire. If she was able to be forthcoming about this much there was probably ten times as much hidden below the surface. What she had just uncovered was just the tip of the iceberg, that was something she felt completely confident about, and there was not much else she could say she knew for sure at the moment.
“I heard a bit of it from the waiting room, not enough to make sense of anything, but it was a bit alarming to hear any noise at all coming from that room. Usually it’s so quiet during your appointments.”
She blushed. Before this moment she had not even thought to worry about being heard outside of her doctor’s office. Now she felt mortified.
“I’m not particularly comfortable with the idea of being overheard when I can’t even remember what happened myself,” she confessed.
Hibiki reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “I can stay out in the car next time if it would make you feel better.”
“Oh no! You really don’t have to do that. It’s not nearly so bad having you there. I’m more worried about other people.”
“Are you feeling any better now?” he asked gently.
She shook her head. She honestly did not know. Even after their little discussion she felt so confused that to her it was borderline ridiculous. She also realized she wanted nothing more in the world than to stop worrying about this until her subconscious had enough time to process all of it.
“I can’t think about it anymore. It’s just frustrating me and I can’t stand getting this angry over something that I don’t even think I’m capable of understanding. I need a distraction.”
“Do you want to watch a movie or go out and do something?”
“No!” she shouted accidentally. Her frustration boiled over before she even noticed it had reached critical status.
Being borderline too wonderful and understanding as always, Hibiki did not flinch or seem to react at all to her outburst. He just stayed quiet and sat with her until she was ready to speak again.
This of course made her feel obligated to explain herself. She forced herself to just breathe for a moment before she even attempted to make an explanation for her outburst.
“I’m just exhausted. I don’t think I could make it through a movie and I’d be worried that I would either fall asleep or get distracted by my own thoughts and ruin it for both of us anyway.”
“What would you like to do then?” he asked in that gentle way that somehow managed to not make her feel as though she had been a jerk for shouting at him over his initial suggestion.
Rina thought about it. She thought she owed him at least some sort of decent suggestion since she so violently shot down his initial attempt at helping her get the events of earlier in the day out of her head. Coming up with something was not as easy as it should have been. She just could not find a way to think clearly.
Everything was so muddled, even now. If anything her thought process was more clouded now than it had been before Dr. Charlotte and Penny had intervened with their past life regression therapy. She would have a few moments when her mind felt like her own and she started trying to process everything, but before she knew it the outside thoughts were back swirling around in her head alongside the thoughts that she recognized as her own.
She could at least tell them apart. She tried to take solace in that fact. Once she found herself confused as to which thoughts and voices were truly her own she thought she would be truly lost. For now she would try to be patient and wait for the moments of clarity to come and then she would do her most serious thinking. As for the moments in between when everything was swirling around in her head and trying to trip her up and confuse her, she would just have to do her best to ignore the extra voice. She would stay strong for as long as possible. Giving in did not seem like a wise decision. Whatever was trapped inside of her did not seem like it was particularly nice. It made a mess of Dr. Charlotte’s office, and all she had done was try to speak to this other lifetime that existed somewhere inside of Rina.
One option seemed to call to her more than any others. It might not be the wisest choice because of her history of sleeping and not being able to wake up again, compounded by the fact that she had been sleeping far too much again — over twelve hours a night now if Hibiki allowed her. She usually insisted that he wake her up at a reasonable hour. Anything beyond eight hours seemed like a huge risk to her these days. He was usually pretty obliging. Her fears in regard to oversleeping were well understood by him. It was probably her most easily recognized symptom from an outsider perspective.
Nonetheless, she really just wanted to take a nap today. After all of his extra effort in making her wake up on time every morning, she felt a bit of shame in requesting a nap, but it was what she really wanted at this point. There was no point in lying about it as far as she could tell. He wanted to know and telling him the truth would be the right thing to do. If he did not think it was a good idea, she trusted him to tell her what he thought of her plan.
“I think I’d really like to take a nap,” she finally confessed.
He nodded almost imperceptibly, as though he had been expecting this to be her plan. That made her feel a little bit uncomfortable, but she could not bring herself to feel surprised by his almost uncanny understanding of her moods and desires. He had only become more in tune with her since she had been staying with him the past few weeks.
She wondered if he knew enough to just do the thinking for her when her mind was in the process of being hijacked by the other voice. She knew it was a stupid notion, but anything that seemed like it had the potential to keep her moving through life even while her own mind was betraying her seemed like it was worth considering, even if only for the sake of giving herself a bit of comfort.
“Would you mind if I joined you? I’m feeling a bit run down myself at the moment,” he asked.
Taking a nap with Hibiki was certainly less shameful than taking a nap by herself while Hibiki was left awake to keep himself entertained or possibly just having some extra time to think about how messed up she had become.
“Sure,” she eagerly agreed to his plan.
“Okay then,” he said as he stood up.
He offered her his hand, which she eagerly accepted. She was irritated to discover she was still unsteady on her feet and needed the extra assurance of his arm around her as they climbed the stairs to the second floor.
She resigned herself to a long nap, because she knew she would not be waking up after just forty five minutes or even an hour. She brushed her teeth and changed into her pajamas just as though she would be going to bed for the night.
Hibiki put a lot less effort into his preparations for the nap, and she quickly realized he probably had no intention of sleeping at all and just wanted to make her feel less guilty for needing a nap herself. She wanted to be angry at him for this, but she had to admit that it was incredibly sweet. She refused to let it bother her. In the end she knew that she needed him there as a source of comfort and reassurance.
She climbed into bed and tried to make herself as comfortable as possible. Hibiki joined her, taking her into his arms. She rested her head against his chest and sighed.
“Everything okay?” he whispered.
She nodded as she could not bring herself to actually speak a lie.
“We are going to figure out what’s going on with you, and we will find a cure,” he assured her.
“I don’t know if there’s anything more we can do,” she confessed.
“Of course there is more we can do. I don’t think Dr. Charlotte has exhausted her options yet. You certainly haven’t hit a wall in terms of your treatment. Today was possibly a wrong turn, but we can’t even be sure of that yet. It was just something unexpected. I don’t like to see you so dejected when there’s still hope.”
“I’m not dejected.”
“Fine. You’re not dejected.” He kissed the top of her head. “Stop being so hard on yourself.”
“I’m not trying to be hard on myself.”
“You’re doing a pretty good job for not trying.”
She shifted so he could see her stick her tongue out at him.
He chuckled. As usual he was amused rather than irritated by her bratty, childish behavior. Sometimes she wished he was just a little bit easier to irritate, but she could not be angry with him for putting up with her. It was not as though she wanted to push him away. She just wanted to know that she was not the only one capable of getting really and truly worked up about the things that were happening these days.
If he was not going to allow himself to be annoyed then she decided she needed to make an effort to be in a better mood herself. She shifted her position so she was face to face with Hibiki. She pushed down all of her negative feelings, all of her doubts and concerns, and she summoned up her best, most positive feelings to take their place.
She was awash in positivity in an instant. She was already in the best possible place for the sake of her happiness. She was safely encircled by Hibiki’s arms. She felt as though nothing could harm her here.
She kissed him. It was the only thing she could do to make herself any happier. His arms pulled her closer and he eagerly deepened the kiss. She felt herself become almost overwhelmed with happiness.
Whatever it was that was happening to her lately she had to admit that when an emotion managed to break through she felt it more intensely than she ever remembered feeling in the past. Her highs were higher and her lows lower than they had ever been before. She could not explain it, and as long as she was happy she did not feel much of an urge to search for an answer.
Their kisses grew in length and intensity and Rina’s mind sunk into a fevered haze. Her thoughts, or what were left of them, ran together into a jumbled mess.
Hibiki drew back. “Rina, if we keep this up I’m not going to want to stop.”
Rina grinned. Her heart was racing, but she felt completely calm. She was excited, certainly, but underneath she was still calm. She finally felt at peace, and she had no intention of giving up this feeling.
“I don’t think I want to stop either,” she admitted while barely holding back a joyful laugh.
An emotion Rina did not recognize flashed across Hibiki’s eyes. His smile shifted into a smirk. She could not resist the temptation and kissed him again.
His hands pulled her in close once again. His hand stroked her hip through the fabric of her pajamas. Prior to today, this would have been enough to start making her feel a bit on edge, but now it was just adding to her excitement.
Staying behind the protective barrier that sectioned them off from the outside world gave Yuzuki a unique and disturbing view into the battle. Reality bent around them, causing youkai to pass by just beyond the perimeter, but never crossing into her protected territory. There were more people passing by in the forest today than had walked this way since Yuzuki and Souma settled here more than a year ago.
She felt something every time a youkai came to the edge of her territory. It was like a little flutter of panic in her chest every single time. Leading up to the battle she did not have many instances to contend with and she thought she would be able to handle it. Once the fighting broke out she realized it was going to get much, much worse.
The battle was messy, and many of the combatants had no intention of risking their lives, so they turned and ran. Yuzuki and Hisako were hiding in the tree house. They both knew they were safe and completely hidden from the carnage happening beyond the borders of Yuzuki’s barrier, but the looming knowledge of the battle happening so very nearby dampened their spirits to the point that there was nothing for them to do other than stay huddled on the floor of the tree house and try to pretend everything was normal until things actually started to get back to normal.
As the combatants elected to flee rather than continue to fight and die, more and more of them were running into the border of Yuzuki’s territory and setting off that startled little flutter of panic in her chest. She tried not to make a big deal out of it, but once more than one happened in short succession she could not hide her discomfort from Hisako.
“Are you sick,” her mentor asked. “You’re turning a bit green.”
“I’m fine,” she insisted through gritted teeth.
“You can barely speak,” Hisako pointed out. “I’m making you some tea.”
She got up and made herself busy boiling water. Yuzuki did not have the energy at the moment to do any more arguing, and she knew that the tea would not be unwelcome. She closed her eyes and tried to suppress her reaction to the bizarre feeling in her chest. She knew there was nothing she could do to stop it so she just needed to get a handle on the way she reacted to the feeling.
The last thing she needed was to allow this to cause her hold on the pocket dimension to slip. She could feel a tugging sensation that insisted she drop the barrier every time someone bumped into it. Once she could easily ignore the urge, but with these feelings happening every few minutes she could feel her resolve starting to slip. All of her concentration went into making sure that she did not accidentally slip for even a second. This would be nearly the worst possible time to allow her home to be exposed to the outside world. They would be in grave danger if that happened.
The tea helped calm her nerves just a bit. That was enough. With the edge taken off, she was able to double down and maintain the pocket dimension.
Hisako seemed to understand that she was not in a position to do any explaining at the moment and remained thankfully silent. They waited like this for hours. The fighting died down, and the number of defectors decreased, much to Yuzuki’s relief.
With the fighting over it was time for them to see if they could be of any assistance. Although Yuzuki felt pretty shaken from the intense concentration required to maintain the barrier she knew going out to tend to the wounded could not wait. Every moment they waited the ran the risk of losing someone they might have otherwise saved. She understood that she could not in good conscience wait around until she had more energy. Straining herself would not kill her, but resting now might kill someone else.
She had enough blood on her hands, enough blood on her conscience. Now she needed to save as many lives as she could. It was the only way she knew how to atone for what happened months ago, something that she still felt she had not yet fully repaid.
For that reason she followed along after Hisako without a word of complaint. She might not be at her best, but she was needed and there were going to be people in far worse shape in need of her care. Her own problems had to be set to the side for the time being. Having something to do to keep her mind off of it and to distract her from any further sensations caused by more fleeing soldiers. Having more to occupy her mind would at least keep her from obsessing over the problem.
The battlefield itself was a mess. The injured and the dead were scattered everywhere. The area was too large, and there were too many casualties for them to do a full and complete analysis of all those still living to determine who needed to be treated first would not be possible with just the two of them here to help. The only way they could react was to treat injuries as they saw them.
They had no illusions about saving everyone. There just was not enough time and they could not be in more than one place at once, but they still needed to do what they could for the ones the could reach.
Yuzuki stayed close to Hisako, not only because she lacked the experience to act on her own, but also because she knew they were safer together. Injured youkai were not necessarily harmless youkai. Even if their intentions were good and they only meant to help, they could still be attacked. They were safer if they stayed together, not entirely safe, but safer than they would be on their own.
They set to work saving those they could. There were open wounds that needed to be stitched closed, a lot of bleeding that needed to be stopped, and broken bones that needed to be set. Hisako took to this work in her usual blunt, matter of fact manner and anyone that was deemed to be able bodied enough was put to work boiling water so they could have a steady supply of clean bandages and other supplies.
Their work never seemed to end. Yuzuki lost track of time. She only knew it was still the same day because the area was just now starting to become blanketed in twilight.
Every time she thought the end might be in sight, someone brought a new injured combatant for them to heal. This kept her busy so she did not have time to think about how tired she knew she had to be. As long as she kept moving, and kept working her body did not have a chance to fully communicate with her mind. She just needed to keep a step or two ahead of her own exhaustion so she could trick herself into working past her own breaking point.
Night time did not even have the power to stop their work. They worked by the light of torches. Yuzuki began to gain a bit more confidence as she dealt with a number of similar injuries one after another. This led to her handling more patients without supervision or direction from Hisako. It meant they could help more people in less time, and it also meant that Hisako had faith in Yuzuki’s abilities, which in turn boosted her confidence in herself.
She was operating almost purely on adrenaline and willpower when a patient in particularly bad condition was brought to her. This man suffered a leg wound as well as an arrow through his right shoulder. He had lost enough blood that he was not able to move or speak much at all.
That was not so very unusual. Yuzuki just went to work as always. With this amount of blood loss, she needed to work quickly and efficiently so no more blood was lost and the patient could be placed somewhere safe and warm to recover and hopefully not die of shock.
She was so focused on treating the leg wound to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible and prevent infection from having a chance to set in that she did not take the time at first to even look at her current patient’s face. With his leg wound taken care of, she moved her attention to the less threatening arrow in his shoulder. Then she looked at his face for the first time.
Her heart stopped. She could not breathe. She had not been prepared for this. There was no way she could have predicted seeing him here. Her father had never fought in any of these battles for territory before. She had not expected him to do so now, but here he was wounded and at her mercy.
He was barely conscious from shock and blood loss. If he realized she was the one treating his injuries he was doing an eerily good job hiding it.
She hesitated. A part of her wanted to run away and keep on running. Distance between herself and her father seemed to be the only thing that could keep her sane. Another part of her wanted to grab a knife, a sword, or anything she could get her hands on and just cut him until the last of his life bled out.
Her own thoughts made her sick. She swallowed hard to suppress the urge to vomit. She could not kill, not even a monster like her father. Enough blood had been spilled for her sake already. She would not add to that guilt today.
She had to do what she could to save him. All of her efforts to make up for the loss of life in her name would go to waste if she decided to become a murderer now.
Her father’s eyes opened and focused on her. She stopped, frozen in place, after a wave of recognition passed over his features. Until now she had been anonymous. Now his expression lit up. His eyes lost that dazed, glassy look and she knew he was back to thinking five steps ahead of her.
“Yuzuki,” he said weakly. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
She resisted the urge to say anything at all to him. The temptation was great, but she knew that if she spoke she would give him the opportunity to get the upper hand. She needed all of her willpower focused on stopping herself from killing him. The urge to make him stop coming back into her life was strong. If they started arguing she was not sure she would be able to hold herself back.
She set to work removing the arrow. She resolved to finish her job, even if she would much rather let him die. However, being as gentle as possible was not a priority with him. Knowing that she could cause him a bit of pain of her own helped keep her more extreme urges in check.
“I thought you were afraid of blood,” he said through gritted teeth. “You still manage to surprise me.”
He was trying to get a rise out of her. He wanted her to speak. It was the same old game between the two of them. She was not going to give in now. She needed to be sure she did not accidentally give him any sort of advantage.
“Looks like you’ve grown up a lot since I last saw you,” he continued, seeming to know that he was getting under her skin even though she tried to hide it. “I knew you were going to fill out nicely sooner or later.”
Yuzuki suppressed her urge to shudder. She did not want to give him the satisfaction. In fact, she just wanted to finish bandaging up his wound and get as far away from him as possible.
He reached up and stroked a piece of her hair that come loose and hung over her shoulder. She jumped back instinctively from his touch. He did not at all look surprised by her reaction. She glared down at him, and he looked right up into her eyes, looking as smug as he possibly could while wounded and laying on the ground.
She kicked him in the ribs. “Don’t touch me,” she said in a cold, hard voice she barely recognized as her own. She winced inwardly as she kicked him again. “Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me. And don’t come anywhere near me.”
Takeshi laughed, but the laugh quickly turned into a cough. “You certainly learned how to be brave, at least when I’m already down. If you think you’re getting away with that you’re an even dumber bitch than I remembered.”
He started to sit up, gingerly as he tried to avoid jarring either his shoulder wound or his injured leg. Yuzuki knew she had to stop him from getting to his feet. He might be injured, but he was still stronger than her. She could not permit him to get any sort of advantage over her.
She kicked him in the chest before he had a chance to rise any further. Her foot stayed on his chest to make sure he would not try to get up again. She crouched down and leaned in close to his face.
“I told you not to talk to me,” she said icily.
He coughed. It sounded painful, but he continued to smirk at her. She realized he still did not take anything she did or said seriously. He thought he was still the one in control. She needed to make him realize he did not have power over her anymore.
She kept her foot on his chest and reached over and grabbed her knife. She pressed it against his throat and stared directly into his eyes. “Don’t act like you know me. You don’t. You aren’t the one in control now. I am. I could kill you right now.”
She pressed the knife into his throat, breaking the skin and causing a few drops of blood to well up. She waited, but her father was silent. Now she was finally getting her point across. He stared back into her eyes and remained completely still.
“The only thing stopping my from slitting your throat is the fact that I’m better than you. You tried to keep me afraid because it was the only way you could control me, and now that I’m not afraid I can see just how weak you are.”
Her heart was racing. She tried her best to keep it under control. She needed to appear to be calm. She needed to be calm. Anything else would be an expression of weakness, and she had no doubt in her mind that he would take advantage of any weakness he could see. Through extreme willpower, she forced herself to calm down. Her heart rate slowed to a normal pace. Her hands remained as steady as ever, and her eyes never left his. At least for now she had all the strength she needed.
“You are going to stay right here. You are going to stay right in this spot until morning. Then you will get up and you will leave. You won’t come looking for me ever again, because if you do I won’t show you mercy.”
She stood up. He did not move. She felt relieved for that fact, at least. She knew she needed to get out away from him as soon as possible. The longer she waited the greater the temptation to go back on her word became.
She kicked his head before walking away. She told one of the other injured soldiers to keep an eye on Takeshi and make sure he did not move before morning. She told Hisako she would be moving ahead to see if there were more critical injuries that could not wait until later. In reality, she just needed to be out of her father’s sight before she started to break down.