Cover by A. R. Shellnut
I don’t know what is going on with me and writing lately, but every seems to be going really smoothly. I love it! I hope that comes across in my writing and makes for an enjoyable chapter.
Earlier this week I compiled all the chapters I posted of The Dreams during my first year writing a serial. You can download Chapters 1 – 39 here! If you’re interested in reading The Dreams as a .pdf, .epub, or .mobi please check it out and let me know if everything works properly. I’m still learning how to do this.
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Rina still felt a bit strange around Hibiki one moment and the next she could almost believe that everything was just as it had been before. Her emotions came in waves. Her mind almost wanted to push her memories of the last few days into an unused corner of her brain so she could pretend everything was still the same. She thought her life had become confusing enough without her own mind trying to deny the facts.
Not that the facts as she knew them made anything anymore clear. Hibiki was Souma. She fell in love with someone who was not even a human being, but a kitsune playing an elaborate trick to appear human. She was Yuzuki, or rather her reincarnation. Souma had tried to bring Yuzuki back, messed something up and now Rina’s soul was a botched up mess.
She was furious with him, and she felt she had every right to feel this way. Her anger did not stop her from loving him, though. That part hurt her more than the rest of it put together. She cared too much and that made everything negative she felt towards him acted as a double-edged sword.
Once she had calmed down a bit she realized she had nowhere else to go. She might not be entirely comfortable where she was right now, but she needed to stay where she stood the best chance of getting help. Right now the person that understood her and her situation best of all happened to be Hibiki.
Being around him confused her and more often than not just reminded her how heartsick she was these days. She had faith one day she would be able to move past it, but their proximity slowed the healing process.
She needed to know about kitsune, and it turned out that she had one available to question when she was able to get over her other issues. He avoided telling her so many things from her former life for various reasons, but those reasons did nothing to make it any easier for Rina to forgive Hibiki. She could understand his hesitation. She did not know what might happen if she started to know things ahead of time. Now that she finally started to get her sleep back under her control she did not want to risk doing anything that might disrupt her newfound equilibrium.
Question and answer time proved to be a way for her to communicate with Hibiki without delving into the problems in their relationship. While it was not nearly as effective as having the time and space to process her thoughts, it was significantly better than stewing in her anger and trying to ignore him completely.
She sat on the chair closest to the fire and watched the flames. She waited for Hibiki to sit down as well so she could ask her latest question.
“Why are you able to fit in so well? You have so many people fooled into believing you’re a human being — and you’re better at fitting in than me, although I guess that might not mean much all things considered,” she started rambling, but managed to reel herself back in before her mouth got too far away from her.
“Practice,” he answered simply. “I’ve had years and years of practice.”
She shook her head. “It’s so unfair. I’m the human here and somehow I’m the one that can’t figure out how to be normal.”
He arched an eyebrow. “You think I’m normal?”
She could not stop herself from smiling. “I think you’re amazing.”
“Well, which is it? Are you upset because I’m better at fitting in than you or not?”
“That’s not it at all,” she scrambled to find an adequate way to explain herself. “I just feel like I’m always going to be the ordinary one.”
“What are you talking about? There’s nothing ordinary about you.”
“I’m not like you,” she insisted. “I’m only human. You’re the one with all sorts of powers.”
“You can’t deny it. I might not remember everything, but I do remember you could do all sorts of things with plants.”
He laughed slightly. “That might be true, but I can’t do anything like that while I’m like this.”
“This sort of transformation isn’t the sort of ability where I can just change myself and stay this way without sustained effort. I’m not particularly talented at this sort of magic so sustaining it doesn’t leave me much in the way of wiggle room magic-wise.”
“Doesn’t that make you tired?”
“Not really. Not anymore, at least. I’ve adjusted to it, but I don’t have a knack for it so I seem to be doomed to always be just able to do it and nothing more.”
Rina smiled. “I can’t decide if I want to be disappointed or relieved. I guess I can at least feel a bit better knowing that I won’t be completely outclassed by you.”
“Well, as long as I look like this I’m practically as helpless as a human, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of me changing back if I want to free up some of my power.”
“I’ve been wondering, is the way you look now an illusion or are you actually physically changed?”
He frowned and thought about it for a moment. “I think it is a little bit of both. I’m still me, after all, but I am changed by it. My senses are dulled. I can’t hear or smell any better than a human right now.”
Somehow that revelation made her sigh with relief. “Okay. I can deal with being on an even playing field with you. I felt like I was at a serious disadvantage there for a while. It had my nerves on edge. Like I was in a confined space with a large predator or something.”
“Worried I was going to eat you up?”
“Yeah… something like that,” she said evasively.
“You know, I’m not so sure we are on an even playing field,” he admitted.
She frowned. “But you just said that you’re pretty much the same as an ordinary human right now.”
“I’m not talking about me. I’m just wondering what else you might have from Yuzuki.”
Rina groaned and rubbed her temples to stave off an incoming headache. “You mean pouring all her memories into my mind wasn’t enough of a gift?”
“I know you never wanted any of this but aren’t you the least bit curious to find out if you’ve inherited anything else?”
Of course, he had to word it in a way that made her curious. She wanted to ignore it, to ignore him, but he had to make it sounds so appealing. If she ignored it now questions would bounce around her brain until she ended up caving in any way. Hibiki knew her well enough to predict this and he knew just how to word things so she would need answers. It was unfair. She glared at Hibiki. He was smiling at her and his eyes sparkled while he waited for her to give in and ask for him to elaborate.
“What else could I have inherited?” she asked with a heavy sigh after a long pause.
“It’s possible you could be gaining access to Yuzuki’s magic over time,” he explained.
He looked slightly uncomfortable when faced with her question. “Well, I did try to make it so that Yuzuki could be reborn as herself. That didn’t work, but some things are bleeding through so maybe we should investigate further and see if anything else is coming through too.”
The goodwill she had started to feel over the course of this conversation dissipated pretty quickly. She could not understand why he told her what he did and then withheld so much of the information she so desperately wanted to know. At this point, she had almost stopped trying. It only made them both upset. At the same time, she considered redoubling her efforts. He wanted to talk and she wanted answers she felt like she should take advantage.
“Are you ever going to tell me anything more about your life with Yuzuki?” she demanded.
“You know plenty already.” He continued to stubbornly avoid the topic every time it was brought up.
“I only know Yuzuki’s perspective on things. What if I want to know how you felt about things? Can I at least ask you about that?”
She could tell from his stiff posture that her question made him uncomfortable. She might have felt guilty if one of her motives had not been to annoy him. She knew she was not handling any of this gracefully and tormenting him because he had hurt her was not helping either of them move past their problems, but sometimes she could not stop herself. Knowing that made her uncomfortable. She wanted to be in control of herself. Right now she felt completely helpless against her own negative emotions. Kitsune magic suddenly seemed like a great outlet for her pent up energy, not to mention that it might be useful if she ever found herself in trouble.
Finally, he gave in and answered her. “If you want to talk about the things you’ve remembered, I can offer my perspective, but I won’t tell you about anything you haven’t remembered yet. There has to be a reason you’re only remembering so much at a time and I don’t want to find out what happens if you have an information overload on top of everything else.”
Rina relaxed a bit. At least she could feel a bit less alone in all of this. That had been a great source of frustration for her. Once she accepted the fact that Hibiki was Souma but would not talk to her about the past, her sense of isolation seemed to grow exponentially. Now they finally seemed to be finding the middle road. She could find a bit of camaraderie and he could still avoid discussing any of the matters he still considered to be taboo.
“Okay,” she agreed. “I can deal with that.”
She moved over to sit next to him. She felt as though sharing deserved more intimacy and less confrontation. Sitting across from him in that chair by herself only added to her desire to start a fight.
He looked surprised to see her so close. She reassured him with a bashful smile. It might not be much, but she could at least make a few small gestures to show that she did not intend to be awful to him.
“Yuzuki was pretty scared when she found out about the baby. Were you scared too?”
“Of course. I felt responsible for protecting Yuzu. I had so many doubts about whether or not I could keep her and a kit safe.”
“Is that why you wanted to move away so badly?”
He nodded. “That was part of it.”
“Let me guess. You can’t tell me about the other part yet.”
He took her hand in his and gave it a light squeeze. “I was also thrilled to become a father.”
The room spun around Rina for a second. She pulled her hand out of his. “I… hadn’t thought of it like that. You’re the father of Yuzuki’s child. You’re a father. And a few months ago I was worried about us not having enough in common because you’re a senior and I’m only a sophomore, but you’re a father. It’s crazy. I keep almost convincing myself it’s going to be okay, but no. We’re so different. It’s too much.”
“Rina, breathe,” he ordered. His hands were on her upper arms to steady her and he looked directly into her eyes. “Just breathe and everything will be fine.”
She managed to take a breath and it did make her feel better. She kept breathing and the room settled back down. She kept staring into his eyes for a while longer, afraid if she looked away that she would lose their grounding effect. As much as she wanted to think that she was getting herself together, she needed to acknowledge that her world had been shaken up enough that even a slight disturbance could knock her off her axis. She looked into his eyes and kept breathing slowly until she felt completely calm. His eyes always calmed her down. They were warm and attentive, always quick to pick up on her body language to anticipate her mood and needs. She leaned in to kiss him.
He stopped her. “Rina, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Yeah. I just need to figure something out for myself.” She closed her eyes and kissed him. Her fingers instinctively found the nape of his neck and intertwined with his hair there.
He was frozen in place as her lips touched his. She refused to allow this to deter her. She understood why he might not understand her reasons for this.
She needed to know if it was still the same as before. She concentrated on her heart. Listening to her mind had her confused and nearly sick with frustration. Her heart would have to settle the matter for her once and for all.
She did not know what she expected to feel. She wanted to know if it would feel wrong to her. It did not. She wanted to know if would be the same as before. It was not. Even so, she could not stop. Hibiki was frozen in shock, but she did not pull away. She could not bring herself to do it. Contrary to all of her anger, all of her confusion and frustration, doing anything other than kissing Hibiki at this moment felt wrong.
Slowly Hibiki thawed out. His hands trembled slightly and he let go of her arms. Rina could feel his uncertainty. It radiated off of him. She could sense it in the way the way he could not decide whether or not to put his hands on her again. He was pulled in two directions by his heart and his head too.
She caught her brain trying to insinuate its way into this situation. She willed that part of herself to be quiet for now. Her heart needed time to work this out and she had made enough of a mess already by trying to use heart and head at the same time.
Everything about this moment seemed to stretch on for an eternity, but she listened to her heart. She counted the beats. One. Two. Her eternity hardly lasted any time at all.
Hibiki’s hesitation passed. She felt decisiveness surge through him. He drew her closer to him deepened the kiss with a satisfied hum.
She melted at his response. Only a small part of her kept a hold of her senses. She was tempted to let go and get carried away by the moment. The familiarity blended with the thrill she felt at Hibiki’s touch served as a source of comfort. Finally, she felt as though it was possible for some degree of normalcy to return to her life and their relationship.
Her heart knew what her mind could not figure out. They could move past this if they tried, and she wanted to try. The passion behind Hibiki’s kiss had that tingly, toe-curling quality that made his feelings entirely clear to her.
His kiss also made it that much more difficult for Rina to stop. She was tempted to put it all behind her in one push and go back to the way things were before. That would do her no good in the long run and she knew it. She knew she was on the right track, but rushing it might do more damage than good.
He drew back from the kiss. He cupped her cheek in his hand and gently stroked her cheek with his thumb. Their eyes were locked. Her heart was racing and she felt a bit lightheaded.
She took a deep breath to gain a bit of clarity. “That was nice,” she said finally.
“More than nice, I’d say,” Hibiki purred.
She smiled and closed her eyes, leaning into his hand. Every way she turned she was fighting against conflicting instincts. One side wanted to keep her distance to give herself some time to heal. The other side craved physical contact. She needed to be comforted after everything she had been through lately and self-soothing was not even remotely doing the trick.
She drew back. She needed to clear her head. She felt better now or at least like she could talk to him without trying to pick a fight. It might last a minute, an hour, or a whole day. She was stronger than before, but certain things still had the potential to dig their barbs in and tear her heart to pieces all over again.
A bit of a distraction might be in order. Both of them seemed to be on the verge of tumbling over the edge and allowing some of their baser instincts to take control.
She smiled. “So, how do we go about figure out if I have any of those neat kitsune powers?”
He hummed a bit while he thought. “It’s not something I’ve done in a long time, but we can give it a try. Just don’t expect us to manage anything spectacular.”
“I’ll keep my expectations low,” Rina promised.
When Souma announced that he had found a new home for them Yuzuki did not know how to react. It was not that she did not believe that he would be looking, but she did not expect him to find something so quickly.
After all of his talk about needing so much money saved up before they could successfully make a home elsewhere she had expected his hunt to continue for quite a while. It made her wonder how much money he had saved up already. She never bothered to ask. Everything she ever needed had always been provided, and she was quite accustomed to receiving presents when Souma came home from his work, but she had never given much thought to how much he was saving.
“Are you sure now is the right time to move?” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper to better disguise her nerves.
“I’d rather not wait. Too much has happened to us here, and we’re only safe and whole right now because we’ve been incredibly lucky. I want to live somewhere where we won’t have to rely on luck anymore.”
She sighed. She did not know why, but hearing Souma say that he had found a place for them to move made her seize up with fear and apprehension. She understood all too well just how lucky they had been to survive the threats that haunted them in this place, but that did nothing to ease her concerns over moving to a strange land.
Before she could voice any of her apprehensions Souma had his arms around her. He tucked her head under his chin and just held her without saying a word for a few moments. She felt the flurry of thoughts in her mind begin to calm down. They did not disappear entirely, but they settled back below the surface and no longer left her unable to express herself.
“I don’t know if I can do it,” she admitted. “Right now it feels like too much. It’s not the right time.”
“How can there be a wrong time to move to a safer place?” he demanded.
“It’s just a bad time, that’s all. I-I wouldn’t feel safe anywhere but here.”
“I’ve found us a safer place,” he insisted. “You’ll be safer there than you’ve ever been here.”
She shook her head. She knew it was not a logical way to feel, but she could not help the sense of fear and dread that came over her at the thought of living anywhere but here.
“This is our home,” she mumbled under her breath. “This is where we belong… where we fit together. It’s better here. I know it is.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I don’t want to argue with you and I don’t want to upset you.”
“Then say we don’t have to go,” she suggested before he could say another word.
He took a step back and looked her in the eyes. She stared back and felt an intense wave of remorse for disagreeing with him. She did not want to fight. She wanted them both to be happy, and it hurt her to realize that one of them would not be happy no matter what they decided to do.
“We have to go. We won’t leave today, tomorrow, or even next week, but we will go soon. I have to do what I can to keep you safe.”
She looked away. “We can’t go. I need to be here. I’m scared to go far away. It will be like it was before when I didn’t know anyone here and I was alone all the time. I don’t want that.”
“You won’t be alone. I’ll be with you,” he assured her. His fingertips brushed across her cheek.
“I know I will always have you, but I will have to leave everyone else behind. Leaving Hisako behind and moving even further away from Motoko… it’s not fair. I don’t have many people and I don’t want to say goodbye to them now.”
“Yuzu, you aren’t going to lose anyone. You can still visit.”
She could feel herself spiraling into a sort of despair different from the type of feelings she usually had when she had to confront change. The world felt like it was ending because she could see her entire life changing. All she wanted to do was make it stop.
“I won’t be able to visit,” she insisted. “We’re going to move. I’m going to have this kit, and then I won’t have time to jump between the human world and this world to visit anybody.”
Souma sighed. “A lot of things are going to have to change soon. We don’t have a choice about that. I just don’t understand why you are so against making changes so we’ll have a better place to raise our kit.”
She tried to find a way to put the way she felt into words. It was complicated. Her apprehensions were purely instinctual. She made no conscious decision to feel this way and therefore had no understanding of the reasons behind it.
She separated herself from Souma so she could pace across the room while she thought. He waited patiently, which was more than she thought she deserved after the way she had been acting.
This sort of strong feeling compelled her to provide Souma with an explanation, but at the moment she did not understand her own mind. She needed to think, but thinking did not seem to get her any closer to coming to any sort of solution to offer to him. She did not like the idea of behaving irrationally. Even if she did not entirely understand her reasons, she knew that she had them and they were valid. This was not the sort of thing she would just be against for the sake of being against it. Deep down in her gut she just knew this was not what she wanted or needed right now.
Thinking it through on her own did not seem to be very effective. She felt just as lost as she did when they were arguing about it. There had to be a better way. They needed to discuss this, and it needed to be done in such a way that would not cause it to spiral back into the same argument.
She took his hand without a word and brought him with her to a comfortable place to sit. Then she sat down and tugged his hand to get him to sit down with her. He followed her lead without a question. He still looked a bit irritated. She could not blame him. She knew that she seemed like she was being difficult for no reason. She hoped that sitting down and talking would at least help him to understand that she did not understand why she felt this way herself.
She took a deep breath to calm her thoughts and settle her nerves. Souma wrapped his arms around her, bringing her to rest against his chest. She paused for a moment longer to relax by listening to the beating of his heart.
She knew she could not justify putting off speaking any longer. “I wish I could easily explain my feelings to you. I’m not sure I entirely understand why I feel this way myself.”
He nuzzled her hair. “I want to understand why you feel this way. I don’t mind waiting for you to explain.”
She closed her eyes and tried to find the words to explain it. As she waited and tried to allow understanding to come to her. “This is my first home. I know I lived in the village before, but that was never my home. Not with him living there. It took me so long to finally have a home and I don’t want to just leave it behind.”
“Do you think it is this place that makes it so important?” he asked.
“No,” she said with more confidence than she knew she had. “I know this isn’t my home because of its location, but anywhere else would not be the same and I’m not sure I’m ready to make a new home. Everything else is changing so fast. I just want some things to stay the same.”
His arms tightened slightly around her, pressing her more tightly against him. “I think I understand how you feel. We have a lot of changes to look forward to soon.”
She scoffed. “Not soon, Souma. The changes are already happening.”
“Right,” he agreed with a slight hesitation.
She had to resist the urge to roll her eyes even though she knew he could not see. It was not his fault that he did not have a detailed catalog of the changes going on at home after his absence, and considering the direction their conversation had taken since he arrived home it was apparent that he not received any sort of update. She turned so she was facing him and could not stop herself from smiling.
“Our kit is growing,” she announced in a half-whisper.
She nodded and took his hand to place it on her belly. “It’s not much yet, but soon enough I won’t be able to see my feet.”
He seemed transfixed by his hand on her belly. He stared and remained completely still. When the spell on him began to lift he said, “You know, by the time that happens we’ll need another place to live. I’m not going to let you climb up and down the tree like that.”
She found that she had no argument against that. She did not relish the idea of climbing the tree even now and could not fathom doing it once her center of balance started shifting. As much as she hated to admit it, there did seem to be some benefits to moving.
“I guess we really are going to have to move, aren’t we?” she finally admitted.