Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I’m so excited to be posting a new chapter today! One year ago I posted the first chapter of The Dreams to this blog. So much has happened since then. I want to thank those of you who were part of the first year of my writing journey. You’ve helped me grow so much. Let’s keep working together into the next year and beyond!
As always this chapter is brought to you by my amazing supporters. You guys rock! If you want to support my writing please consider become my Patron. As little as $1 per month can make a huge difference.
Rina could not put her finger on it, but she sensed that Hibiki was being distant. Usually, he was so forthcoming, and now it felt as though he was holding something back from her.
Of course this had her worried. She was worried her problems had finally pushed him away. He promised her so many times that he would never leave her no matter what happened, but a part of her always feared that he would one day reach his limit and she would end up alone. Now she was sure she felt that day approaching.
She had so much time alone since she learned the truth about her past life interfering with her current life. She would be the first to admit that she needed some time to figure everything out, but she knew she did not need that much time. She tried to close the distance between herself and Hibiki, and it would work temporarily, but she noticed she was always the one that sought him out now.
A part of her wanted to go on pretending everything was fine between them, but she knew it would be a lie. She needed to know what was going on. For the sake of her peace of mind, she needed to know if there was a problem and she did not know about it.
There was only one way to make that happen. She was going to have to ask Hibiki about it. Asking Hibiki meant confrontation. Rina hated confrontation, but she hated feeling like she was left in the dark even more. She needed to know what was going on with Hibiki and what it meant for her and for their relationship.
“Can we talk?” she asked abruptly after an hour of sitting and reading next to him in silence.
“Of course,” Hibiki quickly agreed.
She suddenly felt terribly unprepared to have this discussion. She knew what to say, but she was afraid of the answer she might here. She kept getting herself into these situations by getting ahead of herself and trying to be more impulsive than her usually very quiet, planning-reliant nature allowed. It always backfired on her and she could not understand why she continued to persist in making herself suffer in such a way.
“I feel like you’ve been distant lately,” she explained quickly. “If I did something to upset you please just tell me. I’ll try to make up for it. If you’re just tired of waiting for me to get better that’s fine too. I’d just rather know so I don’t count too much on a future we might not have together.”
Hibiki reached out and put a reassuring hand on top of hers. “I’m not upset with you, and I’d wait forever for you.”
“Then why have you been so distant lately?” she demanded.
She was not going to allow herself to be distracted by his little acts of intimacy this time. So many times before she allowed herself to be sidetracked by the little things. This time, the stakes were too high to allow anything to take her off course.
He waited a moment before speaking, obviously hoping that he could derail her or at least soften her stance on the issue. He answered when she did not budge.
“There’s something I’ve been keeping from you and I just don’t know if or when I should tell you about it,” he finally confessed.
“Um, I’d prefer it if you told me right away. I thought you were going to dump me! Do you think your secret is worse than that?”
“Well, you’ve gotta tell me now. It’s going to kill me if I don’t know.”
“Give me a minute. I’ve spent so long not telling you and now I have to figure out what to say.”
Her heart was racing. Something huge was happening here if it had Hibiki this flustered. She was too curious to turn back now. She had to push him to tell her what was really going on. It was not even just curiosity at this point. She was concerned, scared even, that she was missing a vital piece of the big picture and she would end up regretting it one day if she did not go on with all the information she could possibly get.
She tried her best to practice a bit of patience. Waiting was never easy for her, but she sensed that Hibiki was trying to answer her question even though doing so caused him some distress.
He squeezed her hand and seemed to be fortifying his resolve as he held onto her. “I’ve been keeping something from you, and I want you to know that I only kept it from you at first because it would have made no sense to you at all and later because I simply did not know how to broach the topic with you.”
“Hibiki, you’re scaring me a little. Is it really that bad?”
“Rina,” he said with a sigh. “I’m Souma.”
“What? You’re not Souma. He’s from back before I… Souma’s a kitsune. You’re human.”
“No. I’m not.”
Rina blinked. “You aren’t human? How is that possible?”
“You’re still questioning how this sort of thing is possible?”
“So you’re like me? You’re the reincarnation of Souma? Yuzuki’s friend, Souma?”
Rina tried to remain calm. She knew she would be filled with too many questions if she did not keep her feelings in check. The last thing she wanted to do right now was to make Hibiki feel as overwhelmed as she felt. She needed him to explain what he just told her and he might not be able to do that if she bombarded him with questions.
“No, Rina. I’m not a reincarnation of Souma,” he sighed and seemed like he was struggling to find the right words to say.
She forced herself to be a patient for a little bit longer. If he had been afraid to discuss this with her she could not make him regret his decision by getting upset. She was not angry, but a serious line of questioning might make it seem as though she was feeling more than merely confused.
The only things she could see to do at this point was to wait. She knew better than to ask more questions until he had more of a chance to explain himself. She also knew she needed to process this news a while longer before she knew how she felt about it.
He was looking right at her, never breaking eye contact. She tried to keep her expression neutral as she met his gaze. He looked pained by the thoughts that he was still holding back from her.
As afraid as she was of what she might hear, she really hoped that he would unburden himself. She hated to think of him being miserable from keeping things from her. She had thought they were very open with each other. She thought she had been the one holding back when she did not tell him about every little incident related to her recent health problems.
Finally, he spoke again. “I’m Souma. No reincarnation required. I’m who I’ve always been.”
“But you’re human,” she insisted. She could feel the panic starting to rise inside of her. The world was starting to slow down around her and sounds were slowing, lengthening. Colors started to dull.
She knew she needed to get a grip or she would end up passing out. Falling apart at this point might be the worst thing possible. She was not sure what was going on just yet and she did not know how much she could trust Hibiki at the moment.
“I appear to be human. We kitsune are more than capable of shape shifting if we put our mind to it. Inside I’m still very much a kitsune.”
Rina could feel herself shaking. She still could not tell if she believed what she just heard. She needed to think and she could not think with him sitting right there waiting for her to say something.
She stood up suddenly. “I’m sorry. I need to think about this.”
She ran out of the room and hurried as far away as possible. She hoped putting some distance between herself and the source of her current state of panic would give her a bit of clarity on the matter.
Once she knew what she thought about all of this she might be able to stand to look at Hibiki again.
They named the new baby Teruko. Yuzuki found it hard to leave behind her niece, even after only knowing her for a short time. Being there from the beginning and helping her sister with every aspect of care with the newborn caused her to form a very strong bond with the little one in almost no time at all. She felt they were all fortunate to find Kyo completely ready to step into his role as big brother.
She was sure that the transition from only child to eldest was cushioned by the fact that he had gained a sister and not a brother. There was a lack of competition between a young boy and a baby girl. They would not be sharing many things other than their parents’ attention. In his child’s mind boys and girls were very much separate beings. That small difference made all the difference in the world in Kyo’s reaction to his new place within his family.
Soon enough her role within her sister’s family became superfluous. Once Motoko was back on her feet, there was not much point in Yuzuki staying any longer. With less to do, she found herself thinking more. She played with Kyo plenty, but she did not find that his games did an adequate job of employing the majority of her mind which allowed her thoughts to wander here and there.
For the first few days she was able to completely forget that conversation with her sister before the baby was born, but the more time she spent without any serious or strenuous work to occupy her mind the easier it became for her mind to travel back to that idea.
She wanted to call it a ridiculous notion. She wanted to think of it as the sort of idea only an exhausted and preoccupied mind could come up with, but for some reason, it stuck with her. She did not know what to think. The signs her sister pointed out were there. They did not go away after Teruko was born and Yuzuki was able to sleep for hours on end.
She had not even noticed it before and now she could not help but see the signs her sister had pointed out to her. It seemed like an overly elaborate prank, getting these ideas into her head so every little thing would look like it indicated she was expecting. She felt sure that it must all be in her head. It just was not possible.
Every time she thought that she immediately retorted in her own mind that she knew very well that it was not impossible. She took great pleasure in the activity that would get her with child, but she felt certain that they had taken care to keep their family from growing for now. Then an annoying little voice in her head had to chime in and tell her that there was no way to be entirely sure and her stomach flipped. Of course, there was a chance of it. She just could not imagine it being likely right now.
She needed to put her mind at ease. Once she was home she knew she would be taking herself to see Hisako. For the first time ever she would see her mentor as a patient if only to set her own mind at ease.
This was the only reason she felt the least bit compelled to return home. It was a complicated tightrope walk of trying to keep her mind off a particular topic while clinging to it as the only motivation she had to keep her from tears at the thought of saying goodbye to her sister and her family again.
She stayed as long as she did because Akimitsu insisted on escorting her back home and she had to wait for him to be free from work. She was happy to wait. No matter how well Motoko was and how much she was capable of doing for her family there would always be more things to do. There was a little boy to entertain, a baby that would love to be held and between the two of them enough cleaning to keep all available hands occupied.
The trip home felt remarkably short. Yuzuki expected her anticipation and apprehension to make the journey feel longer, but the time seemed to race by. This time, Akimitsu escorted her the whole way home. He ended up hearing the story of her encounter with Takeshi and would not hear of her traveling even a short distance without his protection. She appreciated his concern and was extremely grateful to prove that there was no cause for it.
She thanked him, said her final goodbyes and he was on his way back to his family. Then she was alone for the first time in many weeks.
Souma was gone again. She knew just from looking around their house that he had been home, probably more than once, in the time she was gone. The place was not in bad shape per se, but everything was ever so slightly off from the way she usually ordered things and everywhere she turned she spotted housework that was done by a hand less practiced at such pursuits and with less of an eye for detail than she would like. She could not help but smile though to see that he had tried. One small consolation was that the garden was in better shape than she could have ever hoped to see it while under her care. He was undeniably better with plants than she could ever hope to be.
She knew she would need to give the house a good cleaning before she could feel ready to call it her home again, but she set those tasks to the side and set her mind to going to see Hisako.
The first step would be taking a nap. The journey home might not have felt all that long, but it was long enough to make her weary, particularly after she had a restless night’s sleep in anticipation of her journey home.
Once she was refreshed and rested she set back out. The questions swirling in her mind demanded her attention. She could not put it off any longer for any reason. She needed to put all of these worries to rest once and for all. She was confident that everything would be fine again once she was reassured that her own instincts were correct. It would be a lot easier to know what she wanted to hear if she could decide what her own instincts were telling her. Everything seemed so confusing right now. She hoped Hisako would be able to help her figure out what she wanted in addition to putting her mind at ease.
The walk at least helped to calm her mind. She still had no idea what she really wanted or what she thought of all the myriad of worries swirling around her brain, but the physical act of walking brought her a bit of serenity.
She was able to start her visit with her mentor with as much calm and poise as she would have hope for under any circumstances. She only hoped she would be able to maintain her composure.
“You’re back,” Hisako stated matter of factly but coupled with a genuine smile that told Yuzuki she had been missed.
“I just got back earlier today.”
“And how are your sister and her baby? Were you able to handle the delivery on your own?”
“Everything went off without a hitch. It was exhausting and wonderful and more than a little bit terrifying.”
Hisako smiled. “At least now you have a bit of experience under your belt. I’m surprised that your so eager to return to duties here. I expected you to want a day or two to relax.”
Yuzuki fidgeted a bit about this misunderstanding in her reason for visiting. “I’m actually not here to work today. I’m here as a patient, or rather, I suppose I would be considered a patient.”
Hisako looked intrigued. “What’s wrong, Yuzuki?”
“Nothing, I hope,” she replied hastily. “It’s not a matter of anything being wrong really. I just need my mind put at ease. I think Motoko thought it was funny to tease me and now I can’t get the notion out of my head.”
“What notion?” Hisako nudged her gently.
“Oh, she thought it was funny to try to convince me that I’m expecting and now I’m seeing everything as a sign and driving myself out of my mind.”
“I’m sure you know I’ll have to examine you.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Are you sure you haven’t just been ill?” Hisako asked as they both prepared for the physical examination.
Yuzuki sighed. “I haven’t felt ill at all, really. I’ve been a bit tired, but I’ve been so busy that I just haven’t had a chance to get caught up on my sleep.”
“It’s possible,” Hisako agreed as Yuzuki settled herself into a comfortable position to be examined. “Considering you are a young thing and you do have a young man who prefers your company above all others, I think it is more likely you are in the family way than you are having such lasting fatigue from a bit of extra exertion.”
They were silent for a long moment. Yuzuki was silently fuming over the idea that everyone else seemed so set on believing must be true while she simply could not fathom it being possible. She did not want it to be true. She could not imagine it and for that reason, she wanted to have all of these suspicions be wrong. If she was going to have a baby she wanted to be the first one to know. She wanted to be sure even before anyone else had their own suspicions. She felt it should be her own personal secret before she decided it was time to share with the world. If it was true now she would feel so inadequate, not even realizing what was happening to her. She should know better with her training.
“You know,” Hisako said to break the silence between them. “I should count myself lucky that so many of you prefer to spend your time in forms that are anatomically similar to humans. I doubt I would know what to look for if you were a fox right now.”
“It’s more convenient,” Yuzuki explained. “It’s easier to think like this, and there’s rarely a situation where I don’t prefer to have hands.”
“Too true. I can’t imagine giving up my hands,” Hisako agreed. She took a deep breath as she finished up her physical examination. “Well, Yuzuki, shall we make this a teaching moment and have you tell me what you think before I tell you what my conclusion is now that I’ve examined you?”
“Like I said I don’t know what to think now, but I can’t get Motoko’s idea out of my head.”
“Very well,” Hisako said with a sigh. She sat down next to Yuzuki.
She sat up since the examination was over and waited for the verdict. She wished she could say that she felt sure of what news she would be hearing, but she had herself so turned around inside her own head that she did not even know what she hoped for let alone what she expected to hear.
“Your sister knows what she’s talking about, either that or she makes jokes that are mysteriously on point. You aren’t nearly as far along as most of our patients when we first see them, but you certainly are pregnant.”
“I am? Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure. I’m the expert on such matters here, aren’t I?”
“I know you are, but I don’t understand how it is possible. The signs haven’t been there.”
“Not everyone has the same symptoms. You know that. You should count yourself lucky that you’re being spared.”
“I suppose so,” she agreed with little enthusiasm. She caught her hand absentmindedly resting on her belly. She glared down at her hand as though it had betrayed her in some way before she pulled it away again.
“I think, perhaps, we’ve confirmed it all too soon and your body and your mind are not on the same page just yet. I believe you’re not yet three months along so there’s plenty of time for your body to change.”
“I just can’t believe it,” Yuzuki mumbled.
A cloud of concern darkened Hisako’s face. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even give it consideration before I put my foot in my mouth. Is this welcome news?”
“I… I think so,” she said softly. “I’ve wanted a baby, even hoped for one, but now I’m not at all sure I’m ready.”
Hisako patted her arm. “There’s still plenty of time for you to get ready. That’s one positive to knowing so soon.”
“How am I going to tell Souma? We were supposed to be careful.”
“Do you think he’ll take the news badly?”
Yuzuki shook her head. “He’ll be okay. It’s just that he likes to have a plan for everything and we certainly didn’t plan for this.”
“Ah, well, I’m sure he’ll adjust to not being able to plan everything soon enough.”
“Do you think so?”
“I do, now you should probably go home and get some rest. You’ve had a busy few weeks and you should relish any time you can afford to not be busy now. You can come back to work with me when you are feeling a bit more like yourself.”
“Is it okay for me to sit here a while longer while I get used to the idea?”
“Of course. Take your time.”
She just needed to sit quietly for a few moments to collect her thoughts. She had been so sure that she had been confused by the idea her sister had put into her head. She never gave any credence to the possibility and that made her slightly uncomfortable.
Once she felt calm enough to be steady on her feet she started walking home. She felt she thought more clearly while walking and she needed to clear her mind of a lot of things right now. She needed to be calm, and know how she felt about everything before Souma came home again so she could tell him without having her own confusion being thrown into the mix. It would be a bit easier if she knew when to expect him, but since she had been gone for a few weeks herself she had no idea if she could expect him in a few days or if she would be on her own for more than a week.
She knew better than to fret over that though. She had adjusted to the way he went away to work, or rather she had resigned herself to it. There would be no sense in fretting over it now. She would see him again when he came home and she hoped that her presence and her new would be a pleasant surprise for him, but also knew better than to try to predict the future. There was no sense in thinking or worrying about it since it was all so far beyond her control.
For now, she would focus on the things she could control, like resting, taking proper care of herself and tackling the subtle chaos of her home. By the time Souma came home she was sure she could have everything back to the way it was before. Then she would be able to truly feel at home again and she was sure she would feel more comfortable and confident once again.