Cover by A. R. Shellnut
Here’s another chapter I found myself oddly pleased with when I revised it. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad one. Let me know if I’m missing some huge and obvious mistake in this chapter.
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Rina was startled by Dr. Charlotte’s anger until she realized it was not anger at all. The doctor’s frustration regarding the current situation rivaled Rina’s own. Rina felt a bit nervous as she had never seen this side of her doctor and did not know what to expect.
“I’m sorry we’ve made things even more difficult for you, Rina. I promise you that was not our intention, but it was a possibility. Your boyfriend did the right thing by calling. We need to get to the bottom of this before anything else happens,” Dr. Charlotte quickly explained.
“Should I ask Hibiki to come in? He might be able to help me explain,” Rina asked.
“He already gave a pretty good description of your symptoms on the phone. If you’re willing to take some drastic measures with me, it would probably be for the best if he waited outside the room. He might find it upsetting if he was here to watch.”
“What do you have in mind?” Rina asked, feeling more than a little nervous to hear the next course of action described in such a way. She wanted to take decisive action, but what her doctor was describing now sounded pretty terrifying.
“I want to track down that voice you’ve been hearing, find its cause and get rid of it once and for all. It might be one of the newest of your symptoms, but I think it is actually a vital clue to solving your mystery condition. The fact that you’ve had such an abrupt regression back to your disordered sleep behavior after the strange events during yesterday’s appointment makes me think we were on the right track but did not go far enough.”
Both Rina’s heart and mind were racing. She tried to process it all. She did not want to blindly agree to something with no understanding of the situation. As much as she trusted her doctor, her agitated state this morning gave Rina some pause. At least one of them needed to be calm while thinking about this. She just wished it did not have to be her.
“What’s going to happen to me if this goes wrong?” she finally asked.
“If it goes wrong you will get worse. If we do nothing you will get worse. The only way I can see you improving at this point is if we can make this work.”
“We? You’re expecting me to help again? That didn’t go so well last time.”
“None of this will work without your complete cooperation.”
“Is that what went wrong last time? Did I mess it up?”
“No. You didn’t do anything wrong. We just ran into something entirely unanticipated.”
“What if that happens again?”
“Well, I won’t make the same mistake twice, and I’m not going to try anything that might unleash that angry side of your personality. Today isn’t exploratory. I intend to correct matters.”
The harsh determination in Dr. Charlotte’s eyes gave Rina pause. She realized this was serious. It had felt serious to her from the start, but the doctor’s expression gave validation to her belief. The knowledge made her uncomfortable. She realized just how bad this would be for her.
None of the possible outcomes seemed particularly appealing. Without doing anything she would only get worse. If she tried to get better there was still a chance things could go badly for her. The last thing she wanted was to cause more problems for the people around her.
Ignoring an opportunity to get well again solved nothing. She had to try to stop being such a burden on those around her. Being afraid would be a waste of her time at this point.
“Do you think it will work?” Rina asked with a great deal of hesitation.
“I can’t say for sure, but it’s the best chance you have at this point, and we can’t wait around exploring other options anymore.”
Rina sighed. “I guess we should do it then. Tell me what you need me to do.”
“I need you to sleep and I need to you be completely calm. If you fight back at all we’re going to have problems like we did last time.”
“But that wasn’t me fighting then,” Rina argued.
“I know,” Dr. Charlotte agreed, “but I need you to keep that side of you from coming out and going into a state of panic again. Once I start it will be dangerous for me to stop before I’m finished so I need you to keep everything else calm so I can do what I have to do.”
Rina nodded. “I think I can do that. I’ll try at least.”
“I need you to do more than try. This isn’t something we’re going to be able to do over if we mess it up this time. We get one try and then if we fail, we really fail.”
“Okay. I’ll make sure I stay calm — all of me. Just make sure you make this work.”
“Let’s get started.”
Rina was put into a trance. She assumed she must be sleeping, but she was still very aware of herself. It was strange, but still oddly relaxing. Dr. Charlotte had really emphasized the need to remain calm, and she had followed through with doing everything she could to make this experience soothing for Rina.
She had no idea how long she waited for something to happen. Really she tried to emphasize that she was just relaxing, allowing herself to almost dream because waiting led to anticipation and anticipation lead to anxiety. Remaining worry free was her top priority and only real mission so she put all of her energy into redirecting her thoughts away from anything that could lead to trouble.
She wondered if she was so relaxed that she somehow managed not to notice what was happening. It seemed to be almost too optimistic to believe that her power of relaxation spared her from what had been described as though it should be a rather painful and traumatic experience. She might be relaxed right now, but she was in no way that skilled at the art of relaxation. If something was happening she would notice it and then it would be a tooth and nail fight to keep herself from dropping into a corkscrew of miserable worry.
Dr. Charlotte’s presence in her psyche started like a bolt of lightning descending from a stormy sky. The tingling electric sensation of her intrusive presence had Rina’s hair standing on end. She forced herself not to react. She pretended everything was still just normal, boring, and uneventful. Her mind tried to break free from her control. She thought about simple harmless things that would never cause her any worry. Cats. Tea. Books.
It worked. She could hardly believe that it worked, but she tried not to question it. She adjusted to the sensation. It was easier than she expected. Dr. Charlotte gave her plenty of time.
Then as the additional presence started to feel normal to her, Dr. Charlotte moved. It was not a small move, to say the least. She dove down from the surface of Rina’s mind and bore directly into the very core of her awareness.
Whatever ordered, thoughtful consciousness Rina had held onto up until this point completely shattered. The pieces crumbled, collapsing under their own weight. All that remained was primal, raw, instinctive, emotion.
She hurt. It was not a bodily hurt — she had no awareness of her physical form at the moment. She only had her mind and her pain.
She was being torn. Pieces of herself were torn apart and tossed aside. The ruthless brutality of it all called for her to stop it. She felt compelled to do something out of instinctive self-preservation.
Somehow she remained aware enough to stop herself from fighting against it. Her thoughts did not come in words anymore. It was formless ideas and emotions now. Calm. Hope. Pain. Fear. Trust.
Trust won out and she was able to suppress her desire to fight against this brutal violation of her most basic self. She kept projecting calm. She forced herself to focus on that and to ignore to the best of her abilities the razor sharp focus and determination that signified the doctor’s presence in her mind.
They continued to travel deeper. Pieces were still being broken and discarded at every turn. Rina felt herself becoming less and less. She could not even understand the concept of herself anymore. She was feelings and little more now.
All of the rending and tearing left her with stinging, sharp edges to her mind that would cut her in two if she allowed them to touch her. There was not enough left at this point to even think of calm. There was no enough left to think of anything.
There was pain. There was a brightness too. She felt as though she was approaching something bright. Even without eyes to see she knew it was bright. Part of her wanted to recoil, operating under the instinctual understanding of bright white things having the potential to be burning hot.
Stopping was out of her control. Going backward was not an option. She moved forward, onward towards the white-hot brightness. She felt as though she was going deeper, against her better judgment which understood on some primal level that bright was up.
Her very sense of being was stripped away. Rina had no idea how she was still aware of anything since she thought with almost absolute certainty that she no longer existed even within her own mind. Something still remained. She felt it and its presence filled her with anxiety.
All that was left was that voice. It always seemed to come back to that voice these days. Rina had handled the task of remaining calm well enough so far, but having that voice seeming to be the only other thing in existence threw her into a crisis. There was nothing left to act as a buffer.
The panic she kept so carefully in check exploded. She struggled to get away. Push. Pull. Run. She tried it all and nothing happened. She had gone too deep and her power had been sacrificed along with the rest of herself in the name of finding answers.
She panicked when a third voice joined the mix until she realized it was Dr. Charlotte. The voice and the doctor were talking, but Rina could not understand them. She tried to strain herself to focus on what was happening, but she felt as though she was fading away with every attempt she made.
She felt herself shrinking down until she completely disappeared. Then she was back and felt as strong and as present as ever.
Rina was gone. She was alone with Dr. Charlotte now. She felt so scared and alone. She wound herself up to lash out again.
This time, Dr. Charlotte was prepared to hold her own.
It was dark again when Yuzuki woke up. She could not even guess how long she had been asleep. All she knew was that the fuzzy, warm feeling had dissipated. Now she was left with a dry mouth and a vague feeling that she would need to throw up soon.
She did not entirely remember how she got into bed. She remembered struggling to climb into the tree house and giving up. Somehow she managed to get into the tree house and into bed.
She had to concentrate to get herself to see in the dark. Then she saw Souma sleeping peacefully next to her and vague memories of Souma coming home and finding her quite drunk came back to her. She wanted to feel embarrassed, but her mind was not quite ready to deal with any sort of shame-based emotions just yet.
She tried to sit up and immediately regretted that decision. Nausea on top of everything else she was feeling was not at all welcome.
“I’m going to be sick,” she whined and tried to swallow back the wave of nausea that came over her as soon as she opened her mouth.
“Not in bed,” Souma mumbled without even opening his eyes.
She sighed. She did not have any inclination to get out of bed, and she certainly was not going to argue with him when talking seemed to only make the situation worse. As bad as she felt, she dared not move in case she managed to make herself feel even worse.
Eventually, she decided that her thirst was not going to go away on its own and she took the risk and got out of bed. She almost immediately regretted her decision as the movement caused her head to throb and sent her running for a place to empty her stomach. She felt worse than ever and dared not move again until she knew for sure she could tolerate the exertion without sending herself straight back to this spot.
She laid down on the floor, curling up on her side and waiting either for the pain to finally stop or for her to die. At this point she was not sure which one was more likely to happen.
After an eternity on the floor, Yuzuki felt so cold that she thought she might never be warm again. Not only did her head ache, but all her joints hurt from the cold air sapping all the warmth from her as she laid on the floor. She tried so hard to swallow down the nausea that still threatened to overtake her.
Relief came in the form of Souma with a blanket and a cup of water. He slowly helped her sit up and wrapped the blanket around her before offering her the water.
She cautiously accepted the water. Her thirst and her fear of more vomiting caused her to barely take the tiniest sip.
Souma sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders with a sigh. “You need to drink more water than that.”
“I can’t,” she protested through a jaw that did not seem to want to unclench, even as she willed herself to speak.
“You can and you will. Just take it slow. You have to drink water or you won’t feel better.”
Yuzuki wanted to shake her head, but she did not trust even that amount of movement not to make the throbbing in her head worse. To appease Souma she took another sip of water.
“Is there anything I can take for my head?” she asked in a whisper.
“I can make you a tea for your headache if you think you can drink it.”
“I’d be willing to try.”
“Do you think you are able to come sit by the fire?”
“Maybe. I don’t want to be any trouble.”
Souma shook his head. “It’s no trouble.”
“I woke you up in the middle of the night and now you’re taking care of me.”
“Taking care of you is no trouble,” he insisted. “Just let me do this for you.”
“How can you be so nice when I’ve been such an idiot.”
“If the things you were saying before I got you to go to bed were any indication, you’ve been through some things recently and you just picked a bad way to cope with them.”
“I couldn’t kill him, and I should’ve done it,” she whispered. “You were able to do it.”
Just a glance over a Souma showed him tensing up at the current topic of discussion. As miserable as Yuzuki felt at the moment she did not have it in her to care about whether or not she was making him uncomfortable. She knew for sure for once that she was more miserable than him and that meant she needed to talk about whatever would make her feel better.
“He deserved to die so why couldn’t I do it?”
Souma handed her a cup of tea and she quickly took a sip, hoping to get some relief. She had no idea if it would even be enough to take the edge off, but she needed to try just in case because she knew better than to continue to go down this train of thought without fighting against it somehow.
“You’re not a killer,” Souma assured her.
“You’re not a killer either,” she insisted.
“Actually, I am.”
“Souma, you’re the best, kindest person I know. You aren’t a killer. You just did what you had to do.”
“And you did what you had to do.”
She closed her eyes. The room was trying to go wobbly around her and she wanted to stave off the next bout of nausea until she finished this conversation. “I couldn’t do what needed to be done. That’s the difference.”
Souma sat down next to her and drew her close with an arm around her shoulders. She kept her eyes closed and just allowed his energy to wash over her and bring her just a small bit of comfort.
Staying still, the tea, and having Souma there to comfort her seemed to help Yuzuki feel a bit better. She tried to cherish the moment and nurture it into feeling more wholly like herself again. She could not shake the feeling that she was not ready to drop the subject just yet.
She could not keep her mouth shut any longer. “It’s like he’s still in my head, stopping me from doing what’s best for me.”
“It’s not easy when a parent is the one hurting you.”
“Yeah. I guess…”
“You know I couldn’t do much against my mother either.”
He pulled her a bit closer. She closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder. The night was so quiet and cool she could just focus on his breathing and the warmth radiating from his body.
“It’s not something I really like to think about,” he quickly said before explaining. “My mother was not well. I’m not sure exactly what my father did to her — I was very young when my mother left him — but she was still terrified of him even years later.”
He paused and swallowed hard. Yuzuki waited. She did not have the energy to push him, and she was at least a little bit afraid of what he was telling her.
“She used to get confused and as I grew up I ended up looking a lot like my father. Even after all those years she still had a lot of pent up aggression towards him, and when she was having one of her bad days she would take her anger at him out on me.”
Yuzuki dared not speak now. She had never heard anything about any of this from him before. She always seemed to forget that his home life had been less than perfect as well. He had wanted to run away at least as much as her. She felt too sick and emotionally drained to press him for more information. All she could do was sit and wait for him to decide if he would continue to tell her his story.
“I could have fought back,” he whispered. “It didn’t take long for me to grow to be bigger and stronger than her, but I still didn’t stand up to her. I ended up leaving rather than doing anything to stop her. It seems like no matter what we do that’s a part of us that sees them as a powerful force in our life that we just can’t stand up against.”
“Did you ever want to kill your mother?” she asked in a hushed whisper.
He paused for a moment before kissing her temple. “Sometimes when she hurt me and wouldn’t listen to reason, but it was not something I could ever even contemplate for long.”
“How am I ever going to feel safe if I can’t get rid of him?” she whined.
“It seems like you did a pretty good job of protecting yourself today, and you know I would kill him for you if he ever hurt you again.”
She let that sink into her soul for a moment. “Don’t.”
“You know I’ll do anything to keep you safe.”
“I don’t want you to kill anyone for my sake. No more blood, please.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “No killing, but I’ll still do whatever it takes to protect you.”
“Do you think we would be better parents than our parents?”
He did not hesitate even for one second. “Of course. Neither of us is like our parents. We know what kind of suffering a parent can inflict on their child and we won’t let what happened to us to happen to our children.”
She tried not to think any more about anything. Their recent conversation had her head spinning. The last thing she needed was to get sick again.
The tea had helped with her headache, but the recent topic of conversation did nothing to calm the turbulence in her stomach. She closed her eyes tight and made herself focus on the fact that the room was not, in fact, wobbling around her.
“Souma,” she asked weakly, “how long am I going to feel sick?”
“Just keep drinking water,” he said without very much conviction.