Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I don’t know what to say about this chapter. I don’t love it or hate it. I’m just looking forward to the next few chapter much, much more.
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.
Using the awareness techniques taught to her by Dr. Charlotte, Rina started to reclaim her nightly sleep. That part was absolutely wonderful. She felt rested again, which allowed her to feel like a human being when she woke up in the morning.
She just did not understand why she could not remember the rest of her past life. It was perfectly fine and apparently extremely common for people to go about their lives without knowing anything about their past lives. Rina knew she had been reincarnated and because of that, she could not understand why she did not remember more. She had all of the information that came about from the dreams she had so far, but even now that she was consciously aware of Yuzuki, the information about the rest of her previous life was not forthcoming.
She tried not to focus on it. She did not want to go digging around only to end up hurting herself. Everything seemed to be going so well now and she did not want to let anything, including her own curiosity, mess it up. She tried to encourage herself to be more patient. She was still remembering things. It just was coming at the same pace as before. She had expected a flood of knowledge once she knew the truth, but that did not happen and it did not seem likely to happen now that a few more days had passed.
Knowing that Yuzuki would die one day in these memories made her feel particularly strange. It was like she had flipped to the end of the book and read the last page and now she was back to reading the middle and desperately looking for hints of what she knew was going to come.
She was afraid. She had answers now. She had a plan. It should have been enough to keep her from being panicking. Any other time it would have been enough. With dreams and memories still coming back to her though she could not help but feel apprehension for what would inevitably come to pass. One day she was going to dream about her death, and she did not know what would happen to her when that time came.
So many things had already happened in her dream memories. Many of those things threatened to her with severe psychological harm, but none of them were as bad as actually experiencing death in the first person.
The more she thought about it the more afraid she became. People were not designed to survive experiencing death. Near death experiences were one thing, but to have been reincarnated Yuzuki must have actually died. Since she was in some sense that still made her a bit dizzy to think about for too long actually Yuzuki, she found herself starting to be very afraid that remembering her death would kill her.
She knew living and dying did not work that way, but reincarnation was not supposed to work this way either. Normal rules did not seem to apply to her situation anymore. The more she learned the more dangerous things seemed to become.
A few months ago she was just too tired. Then she was suffering from some sort of mystery illness that was not explainable by modern medicine. Then it became a matter of her soul affecting her mind. A quick realignment of her energies was little more than slapping a bandage over a slashed artery. It briefly slowed down the problem, but when it came back it was worse than ever. Finally, she did get the answers she sought and she was taught a way to manage the situation. Now she was worried about a problem that was purely hypothetical.
It was possible that nothing would happen at all. She might dream her way through Yuzuki’s entire life, reach her death and get up the next day and just be done with it all forever. She might not even reach Yuzuki’s death before dying herself.
She had done more than a bit of research on kitsune, and everything pointed to them living for a very, very long time. Even though she seemed to be processing Yuzuki’s life at a rate of far more than one day at a time, there was a chance she would still be remembering her past life sixty years from now. Yuzuki could have lived for hundred or thousands of years. There was no way to tell at this point. It was not as though Rina could just ask her.
Worry and self doubt regularly derailed her thoughts as she learned the ropes of rearranging her thoughts to allow her sleep to be used for its intended purpose. She tried to focus on what was really important. She needed to practice until her new skill set became second nature. All of this worry did not help her concentrate on what mattered.
It might not make much sense from the outside, but she realized she needed a distraction. Hibiki had been giving her plenty of space while she figured everything out, but all of that space left her with very empty days. Her mind tried to fill that space but all she had going for her was her overwhelming tendency for anxiety-inducing thoughts.
Soon it became extremely apparent that she needed a distraction. Space might be a good thing, but there was such a thing as too much space. She needed Hibiki in her space now.
She went looking for him and he was not too difficult to find. He was giving her space, but he still stayed nearby in case she needed him.
“Can we talk?” she asked hesitantly as she approached and sat down next to him on the couch.
There was no need to run for privacy in his bedroom today. Both his parents were out of the house at work and Kouta was already back in school. Until they returned to college they would have the house to themselves all day.
It was a bit of a relief in Rina’s mind. Hibiki’s whole family was wonderful and made her feel at home as soon as she arrived, but having them around so much was a bit overwhelming. She was used to living with just her mother so having so many people around over the holidays had been a lot to handle even without her other problems putting her stress through the roof. Being here with just Hibiki was a pleasant, welcome change of pace.
“I’ve been thinking about things and I sort of managed to freak myself out.”
“Do you want to talk about it or are you looking for a distraction?”
“Honestly, I’d like both.”
He put an arm around her and drew her closer. “Both at once might be a little difficult.”
“Well, I don’t need both at the same time. Maybe we can talk and you can be ready with a distraction as soon as we’re done?”
“That I think I can handle,” he agreed. He drew her in for a kiss.
It was almost enough to distract her from her worries. She was tempted to just skip venting so they could get on with the distraction part of the activities. The idea was tempting, but she knew better than to think that it would do her any good in the long run. Eventually, the distraction would come to an end and she would be left with her worries once again. Getting the worries out of the way first was definitely the best course of action.
She ended the kiss and looked down at her lap. She could not look at Hibiki or she would be tempted into distraction again. Once she started talking she knew she would be safe, but in the mean time, she had to take care.
“I’ve been thinking about Yuzuki. She died, obviously, because now I’m here and she’s my past. The problem is that she died and I’m remembering her life bit by bit. Even now I haven’t recovered the rest of the memories from my time as Yuzuki.”
Hibiki nodded. “What’s the problem? You’ve fixed the problem with not getting any rest at night because of those memories, right?”
“Yeah. I’m working on that. It’s getting better every night I practice.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“What do you think is going to happen to me when I remember dying?”
Hibiki did not answer right away. Rina tried to take comfort in the fact that he was giving serious consideration to her concerns. She would rather have that than have everything she just said blown off. Even so, waiting for him to say something worked her nerves up into a frenzy. She felt herself on edge, waiting for him to finally respond and already fretting because nothing he could say was going to match up perfectly with where her mind was trying to take her. No matter what happened she was going to end up feeling confused and slightly disappointed that things did not play out the way she had imagined in her head.
“Let’s try to approach this from a different angle. Why do you think anything is going to happen at all if you remember dying in a past life?” he asked after a moment of silence.
“Everything else I’ve remembered has had an effect on me.”
He nodded. “That’s true, but you’re learning to control things now. Won’t that mean these memories will have less of an impact as they come back to you?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I don’t even know why I’m remembering anything at all or why I can’t just recall things from whenever in my past life I want to. It’s coming to me in order so it seems like I’m just going to keep remembering more and more until I reach the end and then I’m going to remember dying.”
He looked conflicted and hesitated to say anything. Rina waited. She did not know what to think herself at the moment and it was better to just wait and get some sound advice than to push and get a response that was not thought through. He kissed her temple.
“Let’s find something to get your mind off of this for a while,” he suggested.
She quickly agreed to his suggestion. If he wanted to avoid the topic, it would be for a good reason. She trusted him to be open with her if he had any thoughts that might help or at least put her mind at ease. Suggesting a distraction meant that he was as lost as her. It was not a comforting notion, but she tried to ignore that for now.
Between the two of them they had everything under control when Motoko went into labor. Yuzuki did not know if this was because Motoko went into this feeling as though she knew what she was doing and her confidence was rubbing off on Yuzuki, or if they were just calmer than they might be otherwise because they were so comfortable with each other.
Once she started thinking about it, her nerves started coming back. Her confidence at first only existed because she was too distracted to think about it, but once she acknowledged it, the sense that she might be a bit overconfident caused her to second guess herself. Motoko intervened when she went back to do an inventory of her supplies for the third time.
“Yuzu, if you need something to do that badly your time would be better spent keeping Kyo entertained,” Motoko said with a moderate amount of annoyance in her voice.
“Sorry,” she quickly apologized and moved over to sit next to her sister. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Right now you can just calm down. You’re making me nervous.”
Yuzuki sighed. Once again she managed to take a situation that was going perfectly fine and ruin it by starting to worry about it going wrong. “I’m just worried that we’re being too calm and we won’t be ready.”
“We are ready,” her sister assured her. “We have everything we’ll need. I feel fine. You’ve done everything you’re supposed to do to make sure the baby and I are fine. What else can you do right now?”
She thought about it for a moment. There was always something that needed to be done. It was a fact of life for any household with a young child. Things would never be perfect. Something always needed to be done.
“I guess I could whip up something for Akimitsu and Kyo to eat later,” she announced with a degree of resignation in her voice.
“And for yourself?” Motoko prodded her.
“I’ll be too busy to eat,” Yuzuki insisted.
“This might take a while and you’ll end up regretting it if you starve yourself.”
“I’m too keyed up to think about eating.”
“It still might help you to have something to eat. You need to keep your strength up.”
Yuzuki shook her head. “You’re the one that needs her strength most today. I just need to keep a cool head and help you along the way.”
Her sister took a deep breath before speaking. “There’s no sense in arguing with you, is there?”
“You should save your energy for the baby,” she agreed. She got up from her spot next to her sister and started to tackle the task she mentioned. It was enough to keep her busy.
It helped distract her from the queasy feeling in her stomach. Making food might not be a cure for such a problem, but it was an excuse to be busy and gave her a chance to hide the way she was feeling from her sister. A bit of bickering and banter between them while her sister was in the early stages of labor did not seem particularly bad to her, but she felt most distinctly that she should not worry her sister by letting on that she might not be at her best on this day. She had to make caring for her sister a top priority and she knew Motoko would try to deflect onto her at the first sign of weakness. That could not be allowed to happen on such a day.
As the day progressed Yuzuki had less and less time that she needed to fill will senseless tasks and chores. While she was not yet needed to actively assist her sister, Motoko was having more pain and therefore required more attention than she had previously, even if most of that attention was geared toward moral support and distracting her when the pain came.
After his shift on guard duty ended, Akimitsu also required her to give him regular updates on Motoko’s condition. He wanted to be present for the birth of his child just as much as Motoko wanted him to stay out of the house until the whole process was over.
Yuzuki did her best to alleviate his concerns with updates at the doorway. With the updates she provided, she was able to keep him calm enough to be willing to wait it out and look after Kyo for them. She passed to him more food than she could reasonably hope for them two of them to eat, but she liked to think that her brief visits to the door to provide him with an update helped to alleviate his worries and would hopefully buy them some peace and quiet when they truly needed it. He seemed confident that it would be over soon, and she did not have the heart to tell him that there was still a good chance that the labor could go on for hours and this being his wife’s second birth did not guarantee a faster delivery.
Motoko was all too aware of the possibility of a long labor and her sister redoubled her efforts to keep her spirits up. Yuzuki’s mind was repeatedly running over everything she knew about childbirth. Motoko’s discomfort and growing anxiety had her worried that she had missed something of importance.
So far everything seemed to be normal. The labor was progressing, it was just a slow progress. Her water had not yet broken and the birth canal was not yet fully dilated. The pain and the waiting were just wearing on both their nerves.
She kept her sister’s spirits up as much as possible by talking with her and by offering her hand as the pains did come. Gradually they did start coming closer together and Yuzuki knew that their most arduous task was looming just around the corner.
She made sure that the water was heated up again and she had as much of it as she possibly could. Her heart was racing in her chest as she once again had the realization hit her that she was entirely on her own this time. She had never been on her own for a delivery before.
Her sister was experienced. Well, she had the experience of giving birth before, but that put her birth attendance total at one. Yuzuki had attended many more than that since she had started studying under Hisako, but never before had she been the one all alone instructing the mother on how everything should be. She did not know if she could do it. She did not know if she had the endurance for it.
The work for the day had no yet truly started, but she felt as though she could sleep for a year. There was no time for her to truly rest. She took moments when she could when her sister was also able to rest. Of course, her sister’s labor progressed and she had less and less time to recover her strength.
When she looked up from checking the kit’s heartbeat Motoko was studying her carefully. She felt a bit uncomfortable under this sudden scrutiny and tried her best to straighten herself up in a hurry.
“You look at least as tired as I feel,” Motoko pointed out.
“I’m fine,” Yuzuki insisted. No matter how tired she felt she would mask that fact. This was her sister’s time of need and she fully intended to do everything in her power to make sure that she got the care she needed and deserved.
“You’ve been getting run down every day for the last few weeks,” Motoko pressed on with the topic. She seemed to be gaining strength from making her sister uncomfortable. Yuzuki considered enduring it just to give her this extra boost.
“I’m not sick. There’s just been a lot to do,” she argued.
“I never said anything about being sick,” her sister insisted.
The discussion was interrupted by another bout of pain gripping Motoko’s middle. Once the pain subsided once again she decided she needed to walk and with Yuzuki’s help she was able to take several turns around the room. Once she had walked a bit and regained some of her composure she continued her discussion with her sister.
“I honestly don’t think you’re sick, but I have been watching you, Yuzu. There hasn’t been much else for me to do while you’ve taken care of everything for me. I’m not surprised that you haven’t noticed. It hasn’t been too terribly obvious, which is probably why it did not fully dawn on me until today when I really needed to find something to occupy my mind.”
“What are you talking about?” Yuzuki asked.
She was a little bit concerned by all of this babbling. Her sister has been mostly silent throughout the day. It was not that she had not spoken at all, but that she had not said so much at once in hours. It was also not like her to avoid getting to the point like this. She would be more concerned if not for the fact that Motoko appeared to get some degree of enjoyment out of keeping her in the dark. Yuzuki found that not knowing only made her more curious. Her sister probably knew that this would happen and planned for it in the manner that she broached the topic, whatever it was that she was trying to get at.
“I have a suspicion, and I’m not at all surprised that you do not sure it as the signs have not been all that obvious. That’s why it didn’t even occur to me before today.”
“Now I think you’re just teasing me,” Yuzuki shot back.
“I’m not trying to tease you. I’m just half talking out loud and half trying to get you to realize what I’m saying on your own,” Motoko said between breaths.
She started leaning more on her sister as another pain came upon her. Yuzuki took note of the fact that this round of pains were much closer to the last than the previous ones were. Things appeared to be progressing. She did not think it would be that much longer now. She hoped it would all be over soon before both of them ran out of endurance.
Whatever it was that Motoko was trying to get at must be important to her because she elected to try to keep speaking through the pain. Yuzuki felt as though she was obligated to listen since she put so much effort into speaking at a time when doing anything more than just enduring was remarkably difficult.
“Yuzu, do you think it is possible that you’re expecting?” her sister asked.
She stopped walking. For a brief moment it felt as though her heart stopped beating as well. She did not know what to say. She did not know what to think. Was it possible? Of course, it was possible. Was it likely? That she did not know. She did not know what to say.
“I haven’t had any signs,” she said finally.
Her sister was silent for a moment, unable to speak while she regained her strength. They were finishing up a lap around the room and she was ready to return to bed once again. Once she was settled and in the comfortable position again she recovered her ability to speak.
“Are you so sure that you haven’t had any signs at all?” Motoko pressed the issue.
She tried to give her sister a withering glare, but she did not have the courage to go through with it considering her current condition. The idea her sister presented to her was almost beyond thinkable. She hated to admit it, but it was not impossible. She just did not want it to be so. Not right now at least. She had imagined this happening someday and it always happened in a certain way. That way did not include her sister telling her that she was pregnant while she was far away from home and could not say for sure when she would see Souma next. She wanted him to be the first to know.
“I think I would know if there had been any signs. I’m the midwife here, after all,” she said with a slightly arrogant air.
She wanted to stop this line of questioning. She had other things that needed her full attention right now. She did not want to be distracted from her sister’s care, even if her sister was the one doing the distracting.
“Maybe you’re just too close to the matter to notice, or maybe you’ve been too caught up in caring for me and my family to pay attention to yourself. It’s your first time. Maybe you just don’t realize what it’s like.”
“Motoko, I really don’t think I’m pregnant.”
“Then why have you been so tired lately?”
“I’ve been very busy and I’m not used to chasing a toddler around in addition to cooking and cleaning.”
Motoko squeezed her hand through another wave of pain. She seemed like she was trying to push so Yuzuki quickly checked to see if she was ready.
“I know you feel like you need to push, but you’re not ready yet. If you push now you’re only going to end up hurting yourself and wearing yourself out.”
“Why is this taking so long?” she complained through clenched teeth.
“I know it feels that way, but it hasn’t been that long, really. The sun is just about to set now and this morning you were just having twinges. This baby will be born tonight, I’m sure of it.”
“I thought things were supposed to happen faster after the first time.”
“Babies do what they want. Sometimes they come faster than others. You’re doing fine and there’s nothing to worry about.”
“If we’re going to be at this much longer, you’re going to need to take a break and eat something,” Motoko insisted.
Yuzuki’s stomach did flips at the thought of food. She did not know if it was the stress of dealing with her sister’s labor or her general fatigue that turned her stomach off of food, but she knew she could not bear to eat anything at the moment.
“Ha!” her sister exclaimed triumphantly. “Just thinking about eating has you getting green around the gills. How’s that for a sign?”
“Really? We’re back to that now?” Yuzuki sighed.
“Yep. I’m not done making my point,” Motoko said with a grin.
“You’re just not going to let this go until you have me come around to your side of things, are you?”
“I am the older sister,” she pointed out. “It’s a hard habit to break, forcing little sisters to agree with you. Do you really not see it?”
“I’m not disagreeing with the things you’re seeing. I’m just disagreeing with your interpretation of those things.”
“I’m telling you Yuzu if you were just tired from taking on more than your fair share of the work around here you wouldn’t be glowing in spite of being exhausted all the time.”
She could not stop herself from rolling her eyes. This all seemed like some sort of silly diversion created by Motoko to distract herself from her labor. She could tolerate it and not need to deal with it at all as long as that was the case. She felt her resolve wavering, but she stubbornly clung to the belief that this was just a diversion for her sister during the long, boring hours of waiting barely being punctuated by the pain in her belly and Yuzuki’s checking on her health and progress. If Yuzuki was going to get through this birth she needed to ignore anything that might distract her from the task at hand.
“It shouldn’t be much longer now,” Yuzuki announced in a desperate bid to get the conversation back on track.
“Good,” her sister said shortly.
She felt terribly guilty for throwing down her sister’s choice of diversion, but that guilt was not long-lived as they were very quickly wrapped up in the most difficult, painful, and exhausting part of their day.
After a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears Yuzuki had the privilege of being the first to welcome her niece into the world. All of the events of the day prior to that moment seemed to fall to the wayside. Mother and baby were the center of the universe, as they should be at such moments. Yuzuki sought refuge in a job well done and a bit of quiet for herself finally.
There was no more teasing talk from Motoko, but the idea had now been planted in Yuzuki’s brain and it haunted her thoughts while she tried to rest.