Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter was revised during one highly motivated revision session so hopefully everything is as it should be. This chapter is being formatted and updated a day later than it should be. I was out of town all day yesterday and time management failed me so I didn’t have the chapter set to go as a scheduled post. Let me know about any formatting issues in particular as I’m struggling with it this week.
With this chapter like every other chapter I owe a huge thank you to my fantastic supporters. If you want to support my writing please consider becoming my Patron. As little as $1 per month can make a huge difference.
Rina came back to herself in one sudden, electrifying bolt of energy. She had no idea where she had been. The experience was nearly beyond her ability to comprehend.
She had been present and aware in her mind, feeling painful and raw as the layers of thought she wrapped around herself were torn away. Then nothing. She stopped being.
She thought that she would die if she stopped existing, but she disappeared and then came back. Without any sort of logical reasoning behind it, she knew that she was able to come back because part of her never disappeared. The little voice that had hounded her, growing louder and louder as time passed did not fade away along with the rest of her. That part of her had stayed behind and Dr. Charlotte had confronted it.
Everything was so quiet. It made Rina afraid to open her eyes. The things she might see there frightened her. The last thing she wanted to see was the office wrecked again like yesterday. The quiet left her wondering if everything was fine or if things had gone horribly wrong. Finding out terrified her, but as moments dragged on her curiosity got the better of her.
Her eyes opened and she hastily looked around the room. Everything seemed to be in its proper place. She tried to take that as a good sign, but it just made her wonder even more what had happened.
She sat up, bracing herself for a bout of dizziness or something, but she felt fine. Everything felt eerily normal at the moment. She had wanted to get back to normal so badly, but now that it seemed to have happened she was more than a little cautious. This seemed too easy. All she did was try to remain calm while her psyche was poked and prodded. Maybe there had been more to it while she was gone, but she had no way to know about that and her lack of knowledge made her more nervous than anything.
“Did it work?” she asked. Her voice was hoarse as though she had been talking for a long time without a drink of water.
“You’re back with us, sitting up and talking, so it looks like we’ve averted disaster, at least,” Dr. Charlotte replied.
The doctor appeared to be more focused on the pages of the reference book on her desk than checking on Rina’s physical well-being at the moment. Rina thought she should probably be annoyed by this, but she was more curious than anything. She wanted answers. Since she was still here she knew something must have happened and she wanted to know all about it.
She waited as patiently as she could, but felt her anticipation growing with every passing moment. She rose to her feet a bit unsteadily. She could not tell if that was just from not using them for so long or if it was in some way an indication of the effort that had been expended over the course of her most recent treatment.
“Dr. Charlotte,” she began hesitantly. “Am I going to be okay now?”
The doctor did not even look up from the reading material before her. She appeared to be completely absorbed in the text and could only respond in a distracted manner. Her eyes continued to scan the page as she asked, “Does the name Yuzuki mean anything to you?”
Rina stopped. She knew that name. She had no reason to know that name, but she did. She knew exactly where it came from. That name was from her dreams, the strange dreams where she was nowhere in sight and lived another life. That name should not have any bearing on anything. It was a creation of her sleeping mind’s imagination. It was so insignificant that she could not even remember where she might have picked up that name.
“I have dreams about Yuzuki all the time,” she said softly.
She was afraid to find out where this was going. She could feel in the pit of her stomach that this was important. Something was about to click in her mind and then everything would make sense. Nothing would be the same once she knew.
“Do you want to know why?” Dr. Charlotte asked.
Her casual, distracted tone set Rina on edge. This sounded important to her. She knew in her heart it was vital information and she wanted her doctor to at least act like she cared. She wanted to believe that it was not a big deal based on Dr. Charlotte’s behavior, but she already knew instinctively that this was not the case.
“I have a feeling this is important, so yes.”
Dr. Charlotte looked up from the book and met Rina’s eyes. In that moment Rina felt validated in her belief that this was of some importance. She waited, holding her breath. Her heart even seemed to skip a bit in anticipation.
“This might be a bit difficult for you to wrap your mind around at first, but I just want to assure you that I am extremely confident that what I am about to tell you is the truth. Rina, you are Yuzuki.”
Rina nodded. It was strange, but she could accept this news. It made sense to her on a basic level. It resonated with her to hear these words spoken out loud. She was Yuzuki. It felt right even without further explanation, although she still hoped there was more information forthcoming if she waited patiently.
“You’re probably wondering how it’s possible for you to be someone else, and how any of this has anything to do with what has been happening to you lately.”
“I think it makes sense, actually,” Rina admitted. “As soon as you said it, it sounded right, and of course knowing that there is another side of me in my head does explain the voice I’ve been hearing, at least.”
Dr. Charlotte laughed softly and shook her head. “I didn’t expect you to accept this so willingly.”
“It makes more sense to me than most of what has happened to me over the last few months.” Rina shrugged. She felt better for having an answer finally after waiting and wondering for weeks on end. It was such a great relief that she did not feel all that motivated to push further just yet.
“Apparently, we were on the right track with past life regression, but we just were not prepared for what we uncovered. Yuzuki is someone you used to be in a past life. Normally this would not be evident, and it certainly would not be a problem for you, but you seem to be a unique case. Your reincarnation is not quite right. It’s like the life you lived before is bleeding into this one.”
Rina backed up until her legs bumped into the couch and then sat down. That final bit of news terrified her. It was an awful thought and it was only made worse by how much everything made perfect sense to her. On some level, she desperately wished that she was not so accepting of this information. That would mean that she had something at least resembling a normal life left. This proved that this was no longer the case for her. She accepted strange news easily because life was so strange and she knew all about it.
“If Yuzuki is me from a past life and I’m remembering her life, why can’t I remember everything? Why have I only started to have these problems recently?”
“This is only a theory, but I think it has something to do with your brain chemistry and development. The human brain is still developing until your early twenties so it’s possible that you just finally reached the point where your brain was developed enough to handle picking up the vibrations from your past life.”
“Why would that make me so sick?” she asked.
“Ah, that is the question, isn’t it?” Dr. Charlotte said with a satisfied smile. “We’re definitely getting into the realm of complete speculation here, but I can provide you with my theory if you’d like.”
“Please do. This is the only time I’ve felt like I’ve gotten any answers. I’ll take theories. I’ll take hard facts. Give me whatever you have in your mind. I need to put all the pieces together, but I need them all on the table first.”
“There’s a chance this is a red herring, a piece that doesn’t even belong in the puzzle.”
“Well, I’d rather have some pieces that don’t belong than missing pieces I need for the full picture. Once I have enough pieces I’ll be able to tell if certain pieces fit in my puzzle or not.”
“Okay. Enough of the puzzle metaphor. I get it. I’ll share my theory with you.”
“You’ve always shared your theories with me before. We’ve tried things and gone in pretty much completely blind. There’s no point in holding back now.”
“True enough. I just don’t want you to get too excited about this and take it as pure fact.”
“I understand. There are some things we are certain about now, but this isn’t one of them.”
“Okay. I think you’ve been getting sick because your brain was just barely able to start picking up the memories from the past, but neither your brain nor your body is equipped to handle the change in energy that came about when the memories started coming back to you. It’s a lot for your brain to process. While you’re sleeping your brain is supposed to be filing away and organizing everything it experienced during the day, but instead you’ve been re-experiencing all sorts of events from your previous life. You were so tired all the time because you haven’t had a proper opportunity to perform normal sleep functions to deal with your daily experiences and you certainly did not have the faculty to process the experiences that you remembered while you were asleep.”
Rina sat back and allowed all of that information to wash over her. She needed a moment of silence to allow it to sink in. It was a lot to process.
“Do you think it will be better now?” she asked finally.
“Well, we know more about what is happening, but if my theory is correct, we haven’t quite solved the problem of your brain not having a chance to process the events of the day. It is something we can work on now that we have some more answers.”
“So nothing is going to change after all of this?”
“Don’t be discouraged!” Dr. Charlotte said in the most upbeat tone of voice so far. “I think I have it all straightened out. Yuzuki wanted to be noticed. She’s noticed. She wanted to be heard. She’s heard.”
“Are you sure that’s enough to make everything better? It seems too simple.”
Dr. Charlotte nodded. “It isn’t enough, but I think now that we are aware of the nature of the situation we can make sure that the memories coming from Yuzuki don’t disrupt your brain’s natural need to rest and process events from the day.”
“How are we going to do that?”
“We’ll start with some simple exercises you can do to help you become more aware of what is going on within your own mind. As you practice being more self-aware I think you will start to see a lot of improvement in the quality of your sleep and you’ll wake up feeling rested again. It’s not a quick fix and it will require work on your part, but I know you can do it.”
Rina took a deep breath. It was a lot more to process than she had ever expected, but having a real, solid answer was even more of a relief than she had ever hoped. There was still work to do, but she was not afraid of work. She just needed to know what to do.
“Let’s get started.”
The last person Yuzuki expected to have request to see her on the very first day she returned to assisting Hisako in the village was her sister’s husband, Akimitsu. She was shocked that he even managed to find her. They had mentioned where they lived and other casual details about their lives over the course of the few days they spent together at the festival, but she had not expected that information to result in a visit from her brother-in-law.
He had been reserved when they met before, which was understandable considering he was the only one that did not have a past with the others. For that reason, Yuzuki had not expected him to seek her out.
She did not know quite what to do or say when it was just her and Akimitsu. He was always so quiet and she realized she hardly knew him.
“I didn’t expect you to visit me, at least not alone,” Yuzuki said to break the silence.
“Your sister wants you to stay with her until she has the baby,” Akimitsu blurted out. He seemed more unnerved by their inability to have comfortable small talk than Yuzuki.
“Oh. I suppose I could do that, but I don’t know the way to your home from here.”
“I’ll take you,” Akimitsu offered immediately.
“It won’t be long now until the kit is born. If you’re coming it should be today.”
Yuzuki had to take a moment to consider this. She wanted to go. Seeing her sister again would be a dream come true, and having the opportunity to help her as she prepared to deliver her child would make her feel like her visit actually served a purpose. She was just afraid that she would cause Souma to worry if she left out of the blue.
“I’ll need to get my things from home and leave a note for Souma so he won’t worry,” she explained quickly. “Wait here for a little while. I’ll be back soon.”
Akimitsu nodded and Yuzuki explained the situation to Hisako and hurried home while trying to figure out what to say in her note to Souma. She knew he would probably worry even with a note, but this was not something that could wait, and it would be better if she knew she did what she could to keep him in the loop. It would not be the first time she had been away from home when he got back from one of his trips, but all of the other times she was still somewhere nearby and came home again within half a day. This time she would be gone possibly for weeks.
Going without so much as mentioning it to him beforehand felt like a bit of a betrayal. She had enough time on her walk back to the tree house to fret over this and to decide that there was nothing she could do to make the situation any different than it actually was. She wanted to go, she felt that she had an obligation to go both as a sister and as a student of the healing arts so she just needed to let Souma know that she was fine and that she would be gone for a while. He would have to understand. He left home all the time out of a sense of duty, no matter how misguided Yuzuki thought that duty might be. If she decided to do the same then he would just have to learn to deal with it.
As she grew in her midwifery skills she would get called away more and more anyway. It was just a matter of time. This particular trip was just a taste of what was to come. Someday she would be the one getting called away to assist with births and staying until the babe was safe in his mother’s arms. For now she was often the one sent away to get more supplies if needed, or just sent away because there were too many people in an cramped room so even if she was gone for a long time it was not nearly as long as it would be otherwise. Caring for her sister would be her first real solo job delivering a baby.
That in and of itself made her a little nervous. She’d only ever assisted before now and with it being Motoko she wanted to be sure everything was perfect. Her sister wanted her there, and that vote of confidence would have to carry her through the next few weeks.
She filled a light pack — she had become much more skilled at doing so over the last year or so — and left a note for Souma telling him what she was doing and not to worry. After checking over everything at home to make sure it would stand to be left alone for a few days, she made her way back to the village. She hoped Akimitsu had not grown impatient from waiting. She left him behind at the village hoping he would take the time to rest. Even without a concrete understanding of where he lived in relation to the village, she knew it was not a brief stroll.
Hisako was ready when she returned with another pack for her to carry with her. She pulled together some supplies Yuzuki would likely need for a birth — the sort of things she would not likely find at home. Yuzuki happily accepted the supplies before saying a hasty farewell to her mentor. Before she even had much of a chance to process what was happening they were on their way.
Akimitsu was distracted. That much became apparent when he kept almost leaving Yuzuki behind as she could not match his longer stride. Even with him carrying most of her things, she just could not keep up. There was no way for her to even have a hope of being able to keep up with him. She just did not have the sort of conditioning he did, even after building up her endurance with her walks back and forth to the village.
He would notice when she started to fall too far behind and stop to wait for her. Yuzuki understood to a degree. He was distracted, worried about Motoko. That much was already apparent due to the rush he was in to get her back to his wife.
She had to wonder how much of her extended visit was her sister’s idea and how much of it was Akimitsu’s attempt to find himself some peace of mind. Suddenly it all made sense. He might be outwardly stoic and mostly silent in addition to being hard to read, but the urgency with which he was taking her back to her sister seemed to suggest that he was more worried than he first let on.
To a degree, she could understand why he was so frantic. This was his first child. Motoko had done this before, but it was all new for Akimitsu.
It was going to be a new experience for Yuzuki as well. This would be her first ever birth where she was not the assistant midwife, but actually in charge. She was nervous that she would do something wrong, but she had faith that it would be a bit easier since it was her sister rather than some stranger. Her sister would be willing to question her — to take charge if she knew what needed to be done — and Yuzuki would not be afraid to boss her around if it was needed, even if her sister was reaching the point of being desperate and frustrated.
She realized both Akimitsu and herself had a lot playing on their nerves at the moment and she tried her best to remain patient when he seemed to forget that she was not able to keep up. The rapid pace of their travel meant that their trip only took a few hours.
Yuzuki was shocked by the amount of ground they had covered. She was glad to have been pushed to move so quickly. Although she liked Akimitsu well enough they never had much of anything to say to each other and it made for awkward traveling. Adding Motoko to the equation made everything that much easier.
As soon as she realized they had finally arrived Yuzuki’s heart rate picked up. She had not realized until this moment exactly how excited she had been to see her sister again. It had only been a few months since she last saw Motoko, and that was not nearly as long as the interval between the last times they saw each other, but somehow she missed her more now than she did before. She was sure it had something to do with the fact that she now knew they were both out in the world and free to do as they pleased. It meant she wanted to see her sister and anything in the universe stopping her from doing so now made it that much harder to endure the separation.
It was hard to tell who was more eager to get inside. Yuzuki wanted so badly to see her sister again, but Akimitsu was in full blown worrying husband mode. He rushed inside the house and left her behind, wondering if she was supposed to just follow him in or if she should give them a few moments alone before barging in.
The problem of making this decision stopped being an issue as Kyo flew through the door and slammed into her legs. He looked up at her with a big grin on his face and she could not stop herself from smiling back at him.
“Hello Kyo,” she said with a laugh.
“Auntie,” he mumbled into the fabric of her kimono.
She knelt down and picked him up. She rested him on her hip and asked, “Are you ready to be a big brother?”
He nodded. “Are you here to play with me?”
“I’m here to help your mom get ready to have her baby, but I’ll play with you lots too.”
“Ma’s real tired. She doesn’t want to play much anymore.”
“That’s because she’s taking care of the baby in her belly. She needs to rest so the baby will be healthy and strong.”
“But I just wanna play,” Kyo whined.
“Then it’s a good thing I’m here. I’ll look after your mom and play with you too.”
“Okay,” Kyo agreed with an adorable grin.
“Let’s go inside so I can say hi to your mom and you can say hi to your dad,” Yuzuki suggested.
As much as she liked her nephew she was much more eager to see her sister and find out how she was doing. Already she was realizing just how much work she had ahead of her. She would not just be caring for her sister during her birth, but she would be helping with chores and babysitting until that time came. It was more work than she would normally expect to do for a birth, but this was her family. She was here as a sister as well as a midwife so she would be fulfilling a lot of roles rather than just one. As much as she wanted to be here with her sister and her family to offer any sort of help she could, the breadth of the responsibility she was taking on here overwhelmed her.
Kyo squirmed in her arms so she let him down and he ran into the house ahead of her. She followed him at a more sedate pace. Kyo had already managed to find his way into Akimitsu’s arms. Motoko was by the fire, stirring a pot.
She looked exhausted. Yuzuki understood now the full reason Akimitsu had pushed for her to come today. Her sister needed to rest and she obviously could not or would not rest on her own. She at least knew where she would begin in caring for her sister.
“Let me do that,” she quickly offered to her sister before even greeting her.
She took over stirring the pot and gave Motoko a chance to sit down. Akimitsu took Kyo outside and the sisters were alone.
“You look exhausted,” Yuzuki pointed out once they were alone.
Motoko sat with her feet propped up, a look of relief passing over her face. “It’s a lot harder this time. I have Kyo to chase after now.”
Yuzuki nodded. “He has a lot of energy.”
“And I have none,” Motoko sighed.
“Well, I’m here to help now so you can focus on resting and getting ready to have your baby.”
“That should still be weeks away,” she warned.
“And I’ll be here the whole time to make sure you relax and get the rest you need.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be able to handle it?”
“Of course! I know how to cook and clean, and Kyo likes me. Not to mention that I’ve helped Hisako deliver babies before so I know I can help you then too.”
Motoko smiled, which made her look a little bit less worn down. Yuzuki still thought she looked too tired and decided she was going to do everything she could to keep her sister off her feet until she started to look more like herself again.
She worked in silence for a while. Motoko rested as she had been ordered to do. It was a good opportunity for Yuzuki to ease into her new role. She knew the cooking and cleaning would be the easy part. Looking after her nephew was only slightly more daunting — really she would just be responsible for keeping him happy and entertained so her sister could relax and not feel stressed out by overexertion or worry. She suspected the most difficult of her duties here would be keeping Motoko happy while forcing her to rest. Her sister might have been happy to give up her place stirring to pot and finishing tonight’s meal, but from the way she was being watched, Yuzuki knew that Motoko was not ready to give up control of the house. Keeping her spirits up and stress low might require some extra creativity.
“So, how have you been feeling?” Yuzuki asked to break the silence and hopefully get her sister to stop watching her every move.
“I can barely sleep at night. I have to pee all the time. Every time I think I have a moment to rest there’s something else that needs to be done and now that I finally sat down I realize I’m too big to get back up on my own.”
Yuzuki stopped and stared at her sister, wide-eyed with surprise. She knew the final weeks were often uncomfortable, but she was not used to hearing quite so many complaints in such a short span of time.
Ranting a bit seemed to help Motoko relax a bit and soon the sisters were talking as though nothing had happened. Yuzuki felt the pressure from her sister’s critical gaze lifted from her shoulders and she was able to complete the cooking and cleaning tasks with much more ease.
“So, Yuzu, is there any reason we’ve been talking about me this entire time? What’s going on in your life these days?”
She winced. She knew she had been pointedly avoiding talking about her life, but until now she had hoped that her sister had failed to notice that small fact. It was not that she did not want to confide in her sister — in a way she thought her sister might be a better confidant in certain recent matters than Souma, but she wanted to avoid adding any sort of stress to Motoko’s life at the moment.
At this point, she would only make her sister more suspicious if she flat out refused to discuss what had been happening in her life lately so she decided to just dive in and give her a run down of what had been happening in her life.
“It’s really not that different from how things were before. Souma is working again so I’m home alone a lot more, but working with Hisako has been keeping me busy — very busy sometimes.”
She stopped her description of her life lately there. Her resolve to tell her sister everything wavered. It was too much, too difficult even for her to relive it through talking. She could not bring herself to unburden this on her sister, not when she was already so weighed down with worries of her own.
Cutting her summary short only seemed to pique Motoko’s interest. She spotted her sister watching her closely and knew she was picking up on all of the little quirks in her body language that she had learned to read over the years from being a big sister. Being watched like that meant Yuzuki had no hope of hiding the fact that there was more to say. Her sister might not be able to guess exactly what had happened just from her body language, but she would know enough to press her for more information. Then the truth would come out. She braced herself for it.
“So what is it that you aren’t telling me? Something happened and you either don’t want to talk about it, or you’re afraid to mention it to me.”
“I don’t want to upset you. You’re already stressed and you’ve been overworking yourself. I’m supposed to be here to give you a break and let you relax until the baby comes. Upsetting you would do just the opposite.”
“I want to know, Yuzu. Don’t make me get up and make you tell me.”
Yuzuki knew there was no hope of avoiding the subject now. She took a moment away from her chores to sit down next to her sister with a heavy sigh. Even talking about it was hard, she just hoped Motoko could handle it without getting too worked up.
“I saw our father a few weeks ago. I almost killed him, but I couldn’t go through with it. Now I’m constantly reminded that he’s still out there and I might see him again at any time.”
She waited to feel relief from finally unloading the secret, but the relief never really came. She just felt guilty. She felt guilty because Motoko was not reacting so she did not know how she was taking the news. She worried that she had upset her too much, but the yelling or crying she expected never came.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out after a few seconds of silence that felt as though they would stretch on forever. “I shouldn’t have told you. You don’t need to be worrying about this sort of thing right now. Forget I said anything. We can just pretend I never said anything and you can keep relaxing and focus on having your baby.”
“Yuzu, it’s okay. I’m not upset.”
“No. I’ve learned to live with the fact that he is out there.”
“How? Doesn’t it make you angry? Doesn’t it bother you that I had a chance to kill him and I couldn’t go through with it?”
“No. It’s okay. Look at how upset you are right now. This is how worked up you get over having a chance to kill him and not going through with it. You’re haunted by something you didn’t do. You’d be even more tortured if you had killed him. You’re not a killer. I don’t expect you to be one so I can accept that you did not jump at the chance to kill our father.”
“But he’s still out there! Haven’t you ever been afraid that he’ll find you here?”
“Here we’re pretty safe, Yuzu. If he even tried to come here he would end up in a world of trouble. There are guards and soldiers everywhere here. Even if Akimitsu isn’t around there’s still plenty of other people around that won’t allow anyone to cause trouble here.”
Yuzuki sagged a bit with relief, but she was still swirling with conflicting emotions inside. It might be safe here, and of course, that was great for her sister and her family, and by extension, Yuzuki would be safe at least until she left to go back to her home again.
Once more she was faced with the benefits of living in a community rather than out in the middle of nowhere. This community was bigger, more fortified, and mostly occupied by kitsune. She could see herself fitting in here and becoming part of the community. From what she saw and understood so far she felt as though she could really live here, herself. For Souma, living in a place like this would be the same as the festival. He would be an outcast just based on his looks.
While she was here she could at least feel safe, but she would still have her future safety looming over her. For now she would try to push those concerns to the side to focus on caring for her sister and her family.
“Please stop worrying, Yuzu,” Motoko pleaded after a few moments of silence.
“I’m not worrying,” she quickly lied.
“You so are worried, and you’re lying about it now,” Motoko teased.
“Sorry,” Yuzuki mumbled.
“Just try not to worry about something you can’t control. There’s plenty of stuff for you to worry about here that you can control.”
She smiled. It might not be a perfect solution, but a distraction would suit her needs for now, and she could appreciate the effort.