Cover by A. R. Shellnut
- Project: The Dreams
- Chapter: Thirty Nine
- Word count: 4,993
- Chapter Index
To celebrate the one year anniversary of the first chapter of The Dreams getting posted online I decided to post an extra chapter today! I hope you enjoy, even though the story has been getting more serious lately.
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. Just $1 per month can make a huge difference.
Running out of the house because she did not know how to deal with the fact that he had kept such a huge secret from her might not have been the best idea. Rina’s jacket was not made for walking around in January temperatures.
She could not bring herself to turn back, not just yet. She knew she needed to think things through before she could face Hibiki again. To think she needed to walk.
As long as she kept moving she thought she could tolerate the cold for a while. It would be a good way to motivate herself to focus on the problem at hand instead of pushing it to the side. She could not go back until she knew what she was going to do about what she knew now.
His whole identity was a lie. She fell in love with that lie. Everything she thought she knew about him was in question now. She did not know where to begin.
She needed to rethink everything about her life the last few months. Everything from the moment she met him was suspect now. He kept this from her from the start and it was not an innocent little lie of the sort that could be easily forgotten or overlooked. He misled her into believing he was an ordinary human like her.
It turned out she never was an ordinary human. She had no idea about her past life until recently though so that did not count against her. As soon as she knew she told him. She had been honest and he had deliberately hidden the truth from her.
The more she thought the more questions she had, and she realized she did not have the ability to answer those questions herself. If she ever wanted to get answers she would have to take the chance and ask Hibiki, and hope that he would be honest with her.
Getting answers would mean going back, and doing that right now felt like she would need to ask him to forgive her from storming out like she did. In her opinion, she felt completely justified to react the way she did, but she had no illusions about their next conversation going well if she was not willing to present some form of peace offering.
Her anger and frustration had her trapped. She could not swallow the idea of going back while she felt like this, but she knew it would take a long time for her to start to calm down unless she started to get some answers and a better understanding of why things came to be this way.
By this point, she had wandered quite a way through the neighborhood and she realized she had not been paying attention to where she was walking and was not entirely confident she knew her way back from this point. This only added further fuel to her frustration. Tears pricked at her eyes and she blinked them back before they had a chance to spill down her cheeks. The last thing she wanted to do in this cold was start crying.
She managed to stop the tears for the time being, but she still ended up with a stuffy nose and a bit of a headache. The last thing she wanted to do now was continue wandering around aimlessly to try to regain her bearings.
If she could just get her feelings to settle down a little bit she knew she would be able to think more clearly. In the mean time, she could do herself a favor and not make herself any more lost.
A short way up the street she saw a bus stop shelter. She made her way to it, her pace slower now that her frustration was tempered by feelings of helplessness, and sat down on the bench. The bus stop was deserted like most of the rest of the neighborhood. Everyone was either at work or school at this time of day so no one was around to judge her from huddling on the bench with her knees pulled up to her chest.
The bus stop shelter did provide a bit of a buffer between Rina and the wind, but now that she was not moving she noticed just how cold the air was more so than before. Without moving she just was not generating enough body heat to ward off the chill.
Shivering at least gave her something to distract her from wallowing in her misery. It did mean she would need to find somewhere that provided real shelter soon. Whether she could get her thoughts in order fast enough to feel comfortable facing Hibiki again before she might freeze to death remained to be seen. At this point, it seemed like she would be better off focusing her energy on thinking of somewhere else she could go.
That list was pretty much nonexistent. She realized in her rush to get away to think things through she had left everything behind. She had no money, and her phone was in Hibiki’s room so she had no way to call for someone to pick her up. She had fewer options than she wanted to admit.
For now, she kept telling herself she would make a decision in a minute. She had no idea what her options were at this point. Choosing between staying out in the cold and going back inside where it was warm seemed like a stupid way to frame the decision at hand. For the sake of her well-being she could not stay out here forever. Her frustration and her pride tempted her to see just how long she could last. Going back when she still felt so violated by Hibiki’s betrayal seemed like a recipe for disaster. If she went back at all she needed to be calm and to know her own mind when it happened.
She decided to give herself another minute to think things over. That minute stretched into two, five, ten more minutes. Her inability to decide if she could ever forgive Hibiki had her frozen in place, even though she knew if she stayed out here too long she would literally freeze as well. Even that knowledge was not enough to get her moving. Staying put just seemed easier and safer.
Knowing the risks did not motivate her to action. The cold had sapped away most of the fire fueling her anger and without that anger burning away she had very little left inside her.
The entire street was silent for so long that the sound of a car approaching pulled her out of her cycle of frustration. She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket and put her feet on the ground, hoping to look as normal as possible to whoever was about to drive by.
She did not bother to look up, even when the car stopped before passing her and she heard the door slam shut. She just wanted to avoid eye contact with whoever happened to walk by. The last thing she needed right now was a conversation with a stranger right now.
One thing she did not expect was to see Hibiki sit down next to her.
Rina had no idea what to say. Her heart raced and she felt a bit of heat that she did not know her body still possessed rise to her cheeks. He found her and sat down next to her almost as though nothing had changed. The only indication that he knew he was not in her good graces was the lack of words exchanged. She was not going to be the one to break the silence.
He sighed. “Are you really going to continue to be obstinate? You’re going to freeze out here.”
“I needed space to think,” she replied in a wooden monotone.
“I’ll give you space. I promise. You can have as much space as you want. Just please don’t make yourself sick trying to get away from me.”
She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
“Your lips are turning blue. I’m not asking you to pretend we’re okay and I’m not expecting you to stay with me. Just let me take you somewhere so you’re out of the cold. I’ll take you anywhere you want.”
She kept her eyes looking forward and her mouth shut. He was trying to look out for her as though he had not been betraying her with his secret all this time.
Without another word he took off his coat and put it around her shoulders. She did not quite know what to do. Normally she would accept the gesture, but these circumstances were far from normal. Accepting it right now might send out the message that she was accepting more than his coat. Nonetheless, not freezing seemed like a sensible course of action to take at this point in time. She pulled the coat closer around her shoulders, but otherwise refused to acknowledge the assistance he provided.
“I know it wasn’t right to keep the truth from you like I did, but I didn’t know when I could tell you. Would you have believed me if I told you the truth the first time we met?” Hibiki spoke even though she did everything she could to make it clear to him that she was ignoring him.
She shifted so more of his coat hid her from the outside world. She wanted to hide away from everyone and everything until she no longer felt like her world was falling apart before her eyes. The social obligation she felt to answer his question eventually compelled her to speak.
“No,” she finally replied while sounding as sullen as possible.
Hibiki seemed a bit less dejected once she spoke. She realized that she had given him permission to continue the conversation though and dreaded where this would take her. Even now she was not sure if she was ready for any of this.
“I realize if I say anything more at this point it will only add to your information overload, but I do feel obligated to be as honest with you now as you thought I had been.”
She glanced over at him. He seemed truly saddened by their current situation. Her will to hold out until she knew her own mind eroded even further. No matter how much he had hurt her, she could not forget her feeling for him. The adjustment period had been far too short and everything that happened just made her more conflicted.
She quickly realized that they could not have this conversation sitting here. His coat did help her warm up a bit, but it left Hibiki without a coat and soon he would be the one freezing.
She stood up and offered his coat back to him. Hibiki took his coat back with a questioning look.
“We’re better off talking in the car, don’t you think?” she explained stiffly.
The car was much warmer than the bus stop shelter. Rina’s body remembered just how cold she had been and started shivering again. Hibiki started the car and turned on the heat. He did not say a word. If their conversation was going to continue Rina would have to be the one to get the ball rolling.
She just wished she knew what she wanted. A part of her wanted to be anywhere but here. That part was more hurt than anything. Another part of her wanted to yell at Hibiki until he was as hurt as her. Yet another part of her mind urged her to try talking things through because she needed to understand to be able to move on.
Her curiosity combined with her desire for understanding won out over her other wishes in short order. It was almost humiliating to want to ask questions after the way she stormed out, but she reminded herself that she was not the one who should feel bad right now. Her bad behavior did not even compare to what Hibiki had done to her.
“I don’t even know what I should call you now,” she admitted awkwardly.
“You can still call me Hibiki, of course,” he replied.
“But you’re really Souma?”
“Can you prove it?” she asked. She felt a bit like she was asking too much of him right now, but as soon as the words passed her lips she realized she would feel a lot better if she knew once and for all whether or not it was true.
If he could prove it, then she could ask Souma himself some pretty serious questions she had about Yuzuki. If he could not prove it, well, she did not know what she would do in that case. It would be like Hibiki lied to her all over again. She did not know if she could move past it a second time.
“I could,” he admitted, “but not here.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “Where then?”
“Back home, where no one else might see.”
She hesitated a bit at the thought of going back to his home again. Granted, she was already in his territory by being in his car, but this was more of a matter of degree. She thought she would lose her advantage as soon as she reentered his house. This concern weighed against her desire to see proof with her own eyes. In the end, her need to see proof won out over her other reservations.
“Let’s go,” she ordered him.
He silently obeyed. Now he looked genuinely worried. He did not argue with her or try to persuade her to accept a different course of action, but she could tell that he was not confident in his ability to satisfy her curiosity.
“Are you sure you really want me to prove that I’m Souma?” he asked before they went inside.
“I need to know. If you’re lying to me that’s one thing and if you kept a huge secret from me that’s another.”
“So you won’t just take my word for it?”
She glanced over at him sharply. “Can you blame me?”
“No. I suppose not.” He sighed. “Shall we go inside?”
She nodded in agreement. They went inside and stopped in the living room. Rina approved of this. She was not in the mood to give him any illusions of trust by going anywhere more private.
She crossed her arms and waited. “Well?”
“You might want to sit down,” he suggested.
She rolled her eyes but obliged him.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The room seemed to fill with static electricity. Rina felt her hair starting to stand on end. She sensed something was about to happen and dared not take her eyes off of him.
Before her eyes he changed. To handle what she experienced, her mind took an inventory of the changes she observed and compared them to her dream-memories of Souma.
He was taller. His hair lightened until it was pure white. Ears were now on top of his head and distinctly fox-like. He opened his eyes and looked straight at her. Forest green.
She could not find a word for the way she currently felt. Terrified. Fascinated. Reassured. Her mind refused to settle on one.
“Seeing is believing, right?” he asked in a voice that most certainly did not belong to Hibiki.
She forgot to breathe for a moment. The sound of his voice finally made everything crystal clear to her. The adage might be wrong after all, seeing alone was not always enough, but hearing brought everything abruptly down to the realm of reality.
“It’s really him… you,” she managed to whisper once she started breathing again.
“It is,” he agreed.
“I have some questions,” she announced weakly.
“I’ll do my best to answer them.” He sat down in the chair opposite the couch, somehow knowing without words that she needed her space now more than ever.
“What should I call you now?”
He thought for a moment. “You can still call me Hibiki if you want. It’s as much my name as any other, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to hear you call me Souma,” he admitted with a slight, sad smile.
“And you’ll call me Rina because that’s who I am.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Even though I’m right here?”
“Yes. You’re here and she’s… gone.”
“Oh.” She could not look him in the eyes. She could not explain it rationally, but she felt like a failure. She was herself and that was obviously not the person he wanted. All this time she had been so sure that she and Hibiki were happy together and loved each other. They made so many plans for their future, but now she was sitting here with Souma and every second she spent with him made it more apparent that he only wanted Yuzuki.
She forced herself to push the dark feelings of sadness and despair to the side. She still had so many questions and she felt as though Souma was her best chance at getting some answers. Of course, she understood on some level that Hibiki and Souma were one and the same, but that idea had not yet completely settled into her mind. Asking Souma at least made her feel a bit more comfortable. She knew it was a disconnect in her brain because she was not used to dealing with such concepts, but she only felt irrationally angry at Hibiki while Souma just bewildered her.
“You haven’t been stalking me my entire life, have you? I mean, how did you know I was, well, myself and not someone else?” she asked finally. She cut herself off before she babbled on for too much longer. She felt that hazy wave of hysteria threatening to drown any and all reasonable thought in her mind.
“No. I lost track of you for nineteen years. I was looking for you and it was just luck that I found you as soon as I did.”
“You looked for me for nineteen years?”
“Not quite. At first, I wasn’t sure where you had gone so it did take me a while to try looking for you as a human. I had hoped you would remember and try to seek me out, but obviously that wasn’t how things turned out.”
She could understand what he was saying, but accepting those words as the truth took a bit more effort. For now it all felt unreal. She wanted to believe that she would eventually process it all and then she would be able to accept it. Since this would take time she decided to press on with the rest of her questions instead. She did not know how long she would continue to have the courage to ask or how long the disconnect in her mind regarding Hibiki and Souma being one and the same would be, but she thought she should do her utmost to use this time efficiently.
“How did you know I was coming back, or when it would happen for that matter. I thought the whole reincarnation thing was rather complicated.”
He sighed. “It is. I didn’t want to lose Yuzuki so I intervened to make sure she would remember everything when she came back.”
She jumped up from her seat on the couch. “Wait. You made it so she — I — would remember. It’s your fault I’ve been like this. I could’ve died.”
“I know,” he looked down, unable to face her anger. “I never meant for this to happen. I wanted her back and I tried to make it happen. I failed and I’ve been trying to make it up to you and her since then.”
Rina could feel herself shaking. Whether from anger or shock she could not say. She held herself together long enough to slow her descent as her legs gave out beneath her. She sat on the floor, shivering and wondering why she could not cry. She felt the lump in her throat and the stinging sensation in her eyes, but the tears would not come.
Souma was at her side in an instant. He put a comforting arm around her, but it only added to her distress.
She looked up at him while her eyes filled with tears. She recognized him. She remembered him. She realized his was not the face she needed to see right now. “Can I please have my Hibiki back now? I need him,” she pleaded before breaking down in sobs.
Getting her home back in order did not take too long, even with extra time being taking for afternoon naps. By the evening of the second day she could safely say that everything was back to the way she thought it should be and she felt more than ready to get back to her ordinary, everyday routine the next day.
She went to bed early that night, feeling worn out from the extra effort she put into finishing her tasks that day, but knowing that everything would be much calmer when she got up the next morning. It was a good feeling, knowing that she would have peace and quiet to look forward to. She had forgotten how much she missed it in all of her fretting about leaving her sister and her family behind. As much as she loved spending time with them and the feeling of being a part of a family and never having a lonely day, she realized she did miss solitude and tranquility. She liked being accountable only to herself.
Her plans for a quiet day alone disappeared when she was disturbed in the grey light of pre-dawn by a hand shaking her shoulder. She sat up, bleary eyed and barely able to cobble together the thought processes to register that Souma was home.
He kissed her forehead before changing out of his travel clothes. Then he climbed into bed with Yuzuki.
All the while she tried to get her mind to kick into gear. She had so much to tell him, but she dared not start speaking until she was sure she knew what she wanted to say. So far he did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary, but she was sure that he would be worried if she remained silent for too long.
“I was wondering when you would come home,” she said finally.
“I was wondering the same thing. This place doesn’t feel like home without you here.”
She could not help smiling when she heard that.
“How are Motoko and the new baby?” he asked.
“They’re both doing well. She had a little girl this time, Teruko.”
“That’s wonderful. Let’s hope your assistance won’t be needed so far from home for a while. I missed you.”
He put his arms around her and she rested against his chest. She had missed the feeling of safety she got from being in his arms. It was enough of a comfort to nearly lull her back to sleep.
She fought that urge. She wanted to be awake to enjoy his company after so much time apart, and she had a mission to complete. Until she told him her news she needed to stay awake.
“Would you rather have a boy or a girl to start out?” she asked rather than easing her way into the discussion.
He laughed. “I don’t know. Does it matter? We can think about that later when we’re ready for kits.”
“Souma,” she said carefully as she untangled herself from his arms so she could sit up again. “We need to get ready.”
“Why the sudden rush?”
She sighed heavily. A part of her had hoped that she would not have to say anything more, but it now seemed she would have to be a bit more blunt. She started wringing her hands in her lap.
“We’re going to have a kit, Souma.”
She could not look him in the eyes. She fixed her gaze on her hands in her lap. His disbelief made her afraid to press the issue any further. As much as she tried to keep herself from having any expectations about his reaction, she had still hoped on some level that he would be excited or even overjoyed by her news. Then she would at least feel as though she had permission to be happy herself. With him seeming nothing more than confused, she felt as though she was teetering on the edge. Depending on which way she fell, she could either be happy or sad about her current condition. She knew she should not let his reaction determine her own feelings, but she also knew she could never be happy if it would make Souma unhappy.
“Are you sure?” he asked after a stretch of silence.
She nodded. “Hisako checked. She’s sure so I’m sure.” Her voice cracked when she spoke and that was all it took to start tears rolling down her cheeks.
Souma sat up next to her and drew her into his arms. “Why are you crying?”
She pressed her face against him and remained silent until she was sure that her tears had stopped and her throat unlocked. “You aren’t happy,” she finally managed to say.
“I’m caught off guard, Yuzu, but I’m not unhappy.”
“Of course not. Having a kit with you… it’s more than I could ever dream of.” He held her a bit closer to himself. “I’m in awe. I’m honored that you are going to be the mother of my child.”
“Even if we aren’t ready?”
“We can get ready. Just because we did not have a plan from the start doesn’t mean we can’t create a plan now that we know.”
She tried not to let her tears interfere with her ability to speak as they started welling up in her eyes again. “I was so afraid you would be unhappy I didn’t let myself figure out how I felt.”
“And now that you know you had nothing to worry about? How do you feel?”
She sniffled. “I’m terrified.”
He rubbed her back to soothe her. “Haven’t you been the one hinting at the fact that you wanted a kit for months now?”
“I do want a kit. I’m just not so sure about the whole pregnant thing.”
“How else did you think you would get a kit?”
She laughed a bit. “I’m not sure. Maybe someone would just give us one?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think there are some benefits to making our own.”
“I guess so,” she agreed.
“Are you going back to sleep? I’ve been traveling all night and could really use some shut eye.”
He laid down and she settled down next to him with her head resting against his chest.
“You shouldn’t travel all night like that. It’s dangerous.”
“I was in a hurry to get home and see if you were here. And you are, so it was worth it.”
“I want you to be safe. If I know you’re taking risks I’ll worry that you might not come home to me.”
He kissed the top of her head. “You know, it was already hard to argue with you before and now I feel like you’ve got me outnumbered.”
Yuzuki smirked. She realized now there might be some slight advantages to surprising Souma with this news. If she used her new power judiciously she felt certain that she would have nothing to worry about for a long while.
“I’m completely fine with getting two votes for now,” she said in a teasing tone. “And the kit and I vote to have you safe and at home with us as much as possible.”
“Of course,” he agreed while tightening his embrace ever so slightly and drawing her closer to him. “You know I want to be here.”
“I know. I just wish you’d stay.”
“I have responsibilities, Yuzu. I’m trying to save up so we can live somewhere that really is safe. I want to give you a home far away from these wars that are always breaking out.”
“Where do you plan to find a place without wars? There are always wars everywhere.”
“I was thinking we could live in the human world.”
“Humans have wars too, you know. Hisako’s told me about them. They’re at least as bad as the wars here.”
“I was thinking we’d settle somewhere with no humans though. I’ve heard there’s plenty of uninhabited places in their world.”
“It’s probably uninhabited for a reason.”
“Well, I can make it safe and make sure we have plenty to eat, and you can make sure it stays safe and hidden. I bet humans won’t even know there’s a barrier there, if they ever do find us. I figure we could raise our family in a place like that. Just us and our kits and no one to make us feel afraid or like we don’t belong.”
She sighed. “That does sound nice. Why don’t we just do that now? What good would have a lot of money do us?”
“We need money to buy all the things we can’t make for ourselves, and humans are only interested in trade with rich strangers. I want to make sure we have the best of everything. I wouldn’t want to see you or our kits running around in rags.”
“You keep saying kits. How many are you planning for?”
He seemed to give his some serious thought. Meanwhile, his hand slid down to rest on her belly. “I’m not sure yet. I think after this one we’ll have to have a few more so this one won’t be lonely.”
Yuzuki buried her face in the crook of his neck to hide her blush on the off chance that he might notice in the early morning light.