Cover by A. R. Shellnut
- Project: The Dreams
- Chapter: Fifty Two
- Word count: 6,720
- Chapter Index
This is it! This is the end of the second draft. I’m terrified and relieved at the same time. There are so many things I need to change, but it will have to wait for the third draft. It’s just not possible to fix everything in one round of edits, at least not for me. Certain things about this chapter bother me as they are right now, but I hope it won’t make the chapter any less enjoyable. I’ll make it even better in the next draft!
Thank you to everyone who has read this story. Thank you for believing in me, encouraging me, and wanting me to finish this story. I’ll keep you posted on the later draft work, but don’t expect any news until 2017.
With this chapter, like every other chapter, I owe a huge thank you to my fantastic supporters. If you want to support my writing, see new work first, and help my creations go from first draft to maybe someday a real book you can hold in your hands, head over to my Patreon.
Her days here seemed more like a dream than any of her dreams had been in past months. Now when she slept she did so without any dreams that she could recall in the morning. Whether that meant she did not dream at all or she merely had ordinary dreams that faded quickly once her eyes were open she could not say. Either way, it was much more like the way she remembered sleeping to be before she started remembered the life she had she had lived before.
Waking reality did not feel real to her anymore. She slept, woke up, and only knew she was awake because she felt herself remembering what happened later. It did not seem like she was living her life these days. It was too insane to be real.
Even after sleeping all night she felt like she had not processed everything that had happened the day before. Many of the pieces to the puzzle were now connected, but seeing the pieces connect still did not provide her with the full picture, which only served to frustrate her more. She only had enough knowledge to tease and tempt her and the rest of it was still kept hidden away from her. Today was a new day though and she at least hoped that she stood a chance of being able to learn enough to make sense of it all.
To start out she did have a mission. She had information that needed to be shared with Souma. He still did not know why they were being treated so badly the day before and now she knew what had happened to attract King Yama’s wrath. If she knew more she might stand a better chance of putting a good spin on it for the sake of making Souma not get as upset about it. Considering how unsure she was about Inari’s intentions, she had to imagine that Souma would be at least as hesitant to accept his good will as her.
After the memories he had shared with her the day before, she felt pretty sure that he would not be feeling charitable toward Inari or his servants. She did not blame him, but she had Mori who so far seemed to be a genuinely good person, and as the only Tenko she actually knew, she felt as though she know had to think that they were not all bad.
She tried her best to quiet her mind as she got ready for the day. The amenities she had received in previous days had not been provided today. She was not given food or water. She was not sure that this was an intentional oversight, but she understood that it might very well be. It had not been this bad yesterday, but as the day progressed her situation seemed to have gotten worse and worse. Now that Inari was present and involved in the trial it seemed that she had been lost in the shuffle. If the king did not want anything to do with her then she would not be receiving anything from his servants and at the same time Inari might not realize she was being abandoned in such a way and did not offer assistance of his own.
She did not like that she was so helpless. She was not some sort of spoiled princess that could not take care of herself, yet, at the same time, she did not know how to get the things she needed in this place. In this place, she was completely dependent on the service of others. That knowledge left her a bit unsettled.
Since she had not been bothered over the course of the night she thought that she must be under the protection of Inari and his servants. She wondered if she would be safe going out of the room. The thought of being caught alone by Takeshi again gave her knots in her stomach. she knew she could not stay in this room forever, though. In a place like this, with everything that had happened to her and all the things she needed to process cabin fever seemed to set in after just an hour or two. She was the worst possible company for herself right now. She thought about things that would only end up making her more afraid to go out and get away from herself for a little while.
She put herself together as best as she could with the items available to her and then she stepped out into the hall. She did not know what she had expected to see. Armed guards posted at the door would have been over the top even in her overactive imagination, but she had expected to see some sort of sign that she was being watched over.
As far as she could see there was nothing. Everything appeared to be the same as it had always been. She knew she was not exactly equipped to see all of the different things people in Diyu were capable of.
Her feet started moving before she even made a decision. It seemed like it was for the best. Her decision making skills were pretty much shot today.
There were not that many places that her feet knew to take her so soon it was readily apparent that she was going to see Souma. That seemed like it was for the best. She knew she needed to talk to him so she needed to know what she was going to say before she got there.
She arrived at Souma’s cell ready to make an attempt at explaining everything to him, but also hungrier than she had been in recent memory. Now that she thought about it, she could not remember when she last bothered to eat. Yesterday was such an upsetting day that she had not paid much attention to that sort of thing. Now she had all sorts of news to discuss and her mind had turned to focusing on her stomach.
Talking to Souma had to come first.s he had so much news to tell him and she was sure that she would not be able to resist telling him even if she somehow managed to scrounge up some food.
Souma did not appear to be at all prepared to see her. That was the first time she gave any consideration to the fact that she might be awake incredibly early today. After the chaos and confusion of the previous day, she had no idea what time it might be right now.
“Good morning?” she attempted sheepishly.
“Good morning, Rina,” Souma replied while stretching his arms above his head.
“Is it early?” she asked, feeling a bit foolish for not knowing.
“Yeah. I wasn’t sure I’d see you again before the trial started up again for the day.”
She took a deep breath to keep her composure. “I’m not sure how the trial is going to go today,” she admitted. “Some things have happened and I don’t know how it is going to change things, but I hope it will change it for the better.”
“Promise not to freak out because I’m not sure what I think of it and I really don’t want to have you freak out because then I’m really going to start to panic.”
“Rina. Breathe and just tell me.”
She tried to breathe for half a second before she kept speaking. “Okay. There’s sort of been a change of plans with the trial. Inari is involved now. This was happening yesterday and that was the reason why King Yama was in such a bad mood and trying to prevent me from getting to the trial and how they gave me such a hard time about everything.”
She stopped talking long enough to looked at Souma and noticed the mixture of shock, confusion, and anger playing on his face. She reflexively reached through the bars and took his hand in hers. She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze before continuing. Whether the reassurance was for him or for her she was not entirely sure, but it seemed to do the trick for now.
“Considering everything that happened I’m not exactly Inari’s biggest fan, but everything has been going wrong lately so I’m trying to be optimistic and hope that Inari can help us.”
Souma remained unreadable and silent. Rina sat and watched him, waiting for him to say something. She wanted to know if she had Souma’s approval or not. She had a bad feeling that he would not be happy about being beholden to Inari. If the Tenko were able to behave in such awful ways toward Souma and Yuzuki while being servants of Inari then she wondered what Inari’s intentions toward them could possibly be.
Mori thought that having Inari become involved in this trial would mean that the outcome would be more likely to be a good one. Looking at the confusion and worry in Souma’s eyes made Rina doubt Mori’s beliefs. She did not know what might happen now. She hoped something good would happen to them now, but she had no way of knowing what would happen.
She shook her head to clear her thoughts. She reached through the bars again and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Are you okay, Souma?” she asked.
His ears were folded back against his head and he was frowning. She was conflicted herself and had to imagine that he was feeling much the same as her. She did not want to throw herself into another panic until she heard from him that he was definitely upset and angry about this turn of events. She had to admit though that knowing how he felt would do nothing. None of this was in their control. They were powerless.
She realized that she was a pawn in this. She did not like being a part of a game that she did not even have the ability to understand fully. All she needed to do now was get home. Whether she continued to be on their board then or not she did not care. At least if she was home she could pretend that everything was normal again and try to live her life.,
This was all about him. She came here for him. She only imagined being able to tolerate her life back home as long as she was there with him. Her doubts and her confusions about him continued, but she was less and less able to avoid the fact that no matter how confused she felt or how frustrated she might be with his deception, she felt a deep and loving attachment to him. Their lives were tangled together now for more than one lifetime. She wanted to go home with him. She wanted to be with him. She needed to get him free again and if Inari was going to do that for her she thought she should trust him.
He took a deep breath and seemed to relax a bit. Rina relaxed too. She trusted his judgment and was fairly certain he had a better understanding of the events of the last few weeks than she did. If he was able to relax even the slightest bit she felt relieved.
“I think we can make this work,” he admitted. “I’m not going to say I’m thrilled about it, but I’ve never had any sort of problem with Inari himself. I think he’s got a lot of jackasses among his servants, but he’s never actually come after me personally so I guess we’ll see if he screws me over or not.”
Rina breathed a sigh of relief. She felt as though with that sort of assurance from Souma she would be able to approach the rest of the day with slightly settled nerves. She knew she would be okay until she ran into something else that threw her nerves into a fit.
They sat in silence for a while. It was a calm, peaceful sort of quiet and it was exactly what Rina needed. Soon enough a guard arrived with breakfast for Souma. She was grateful beyond words when he offered to share with her.
The food was better than what she expected prison food to be, but that might also just be because her body was desperate to have something in her stomach again. She was just glad that she felt a bit more settled with current events by the time the food arrived because she did not think she would have been able to eat no matter how hungry she had been if she was still feeling anxious and upset by current events.
Before long guards arrived to collect Souma and escort him back to the hall for his trial. As far as she could tell she was treated as though she was all but invisible, which reminded her in all the wrong ways of the day before. She had hoped that she would be treated like a person again since there was a shift in power and dynamics with this trial, but it did not seem to be the case.
She sighed and followed along after Souma and the guards. She tried to reassure herself that the situation felt the same because she was dealing with guards that served King Yama and he was the one that was irritated with her and Souma gaining the support of Inari. She just hoped that being ignored would be the worst of her treatment today.
She felt a bit steadier on her feet after eating, but she still felt disheveled and unkempt. She wanted nothing more in the world than to be at the trial and to do anything she could to make sure that Souma was free again, but she hoped today at least she would be overlooked because she did not particularly want a room full of people looking at her while she looked and felt the way she did right now.
King Yama was still in the hall. He looked even more imposing than he had in previous meetings. Before today she would have said that it was not possible for the king to look any more dark and angry than he did usually, but now she knew better. She felt vaguely uncomfortable even being in the room with someone with that much rage readily visible on his face.
Then his gaze turned to her and she felt as though her heart first stopped and then dropped out of her body and through the floor. His glare made her feel as though she would drop dead at this very instant.
The ire of the king distracted her from the other being that now joined him at the head of the hall. She did not know how she had managed to miss him at first because once she noticed him, she found it hard to look away.
This was Lord Inari. She knew it without being formally introduced. She did not know if there was anyone that could ever mistake him for anyone other than himself. He just looked the part of a lord of kitsune. She also understood how so many kitsune rejected him. He seemed too perfect. He looked like he was too good to be true. He radiated a sort of calm, creative power that somehow still managed to unsettle her.
She found it impossible not to like Inari, but at the same time, she hated him for just having the ability to make her like him. She realized she now understood where the split came down through the kitsune ranks. A kitsune either decided to love him or hated him for being too easily loved.
Her impression of him was that Inari was pure white, but that was a deception. In reality, he was more of a silvery grey color. His hair and his clothes were varied hues of sparkling, shimmering silver grey. His eyes, on the other hand, were a green that seemed to sum up the entirety of spring in one color.
She managed to get her eyes off of Inari and she immediately started watching Souma. He seemed calm. She had expected something from him, some sort of reaction, but he seemed to be completely composed. Rina did not know if that was a good sign or not. She certainly did not want him to be upset at his trial. He needed his composure, especially if they were going to ask him to relive and retell more of the events from the past. She still felt guilty for pressuring him to tell her more the day before, but she was glad she knew now and would never run the risk of being shocked by hearing it again. She expected to see or hear some sort of reaction out of him once he saw Inari, but it seemed like she was not going to know his inner thoughts in this case.
She sat quietly and waited for the rest of the room to quiet down. Now that there were other people present, she realized she was not the last to know about Inari’s decision to intervene. While the king must have known yesterday, it seemed that many of his courtiers were not privy to the information before now. She felt a bit of pride in knowing ahead of them.
Eventually, the hall was brought to order. She found herself holding her breath. She did not know what to expect and she found herself a bit fearful of what might happen.
Today she did not feel as though she needed to speak up and intervene. There was almost a spell placed over her. She thought it was probably for the best not think about this sort of thing too much because it was more likely than not untrue. She was awestruck and it made it a lot harder to be argumentative. She also still hoped that things would go their way now that Inari was involved. She just hoped that her hopes would not end up steering her wrong.
King Yama annoyance with Inari was apparent as soon as the court came to order. His ire was now shooting directly and with full for at Inari. Rina could feel it even though she was no in the line of fire, but Inari seemed to have invulnerable armor on. He ignored King Yama’s rage and he seemed to not be phased at all by the crowds of people watching him and hanging on his every word.
He explained with complete poise and calm that he was claiming responsibility for the actions of Souma as a kitsune. He claimed Souma was a Tenko through his father. Even if he chose not to identify as such, which was his right, he still had the loyalty and support of the kitsune that served under Inari as his birthright. Inari elected to take responsibility for the actions of his followers and therefore he took responsibility for Souma’s decision to reclaim Yuzuki’s soul. Not only did he decide that he was the only one allowed to justly judge the actions performed by kitsune as he was responsible for all kitsune, but he also claimed responsibility for all of the wrongdoing in this situation.
Rina was dumbstruck and she was not alone. The entire room seemed to be at a loss for words. Rina’s eyes finally left Inari and immediately locked onto Souma. He was utterly unreadable. She did not know if he was relieved or terrified. She did know that she was more than relieved. Souma was safe. He was no longer responsible for what happened. It was the best possible outcome she could have hoped for.
She knew what was bothering him, though. He was saved by Inari. She might not have had any idea how he thought he would be able to do it on his own, but she had a feeling he had not planned on using Inari for help. To compound that problem, Inari had mentioned Souma’s father, a figure Rina felt she needed to avoid when talking to him. Now he was the primary example of why they were going to be able to get out of here and she could understand why he disliked that.
After some deliberation, and some more formalities that made this all officially a matter for Inari and relieved King Yama of all responsibility for it, the hall cleared out. Souma was not escorted back to his cell, so Rina avoided getting pushed along with the crowd and hung back to see what would happen next.
Eventually the last of the oni left the room with a comically large stack of documents and complete silence fell over the hall. Rina looked around. The hall was not empty, but there was a sort of reverence causing a hush to fall over all of those that were still present. Aside from Rina and Souma, Inari also remained at the head of the hall. She did not anticipate seeing so many Tenko along the walls. They were so quiet that she did not know if they were here as an intimidation tactic or if they were just here for the show.
She did not know if it mattered or not, but she did not care any more. She left her place and hurried over to Souma’s side. She was beyond worrying about what her own feelings might be. She knew she thought about things too much and it ended up causing her not to act at all so she just acted based on what she felt this time. She pulled him into a tight embrace, not bothering to hide her excitement or worry about propriety. Then she kissed him. She did not expect him to respond. She did not even hope to have him approve of her actions. He seemed so caught up in his own concerns that she had no expectations.
She felt his hands twitch before he returned her embrace. He kissed her back. He pulled her close and held her as though he was never going to let her go. She was practically pulled into his lap and she had no complaints about it. He was free. Now they would be able to go home.
All of her concerns and worries about what their relationship would be, what their relationship should be considering the way he had hidden who he was from her seemed like it was all so far in the past now. He was himself and she was herself and they could be together. They could make this work if they tried and she wanted to try.
There was so much she wanted to convey through her kisses and touches, but Souma pulled away. She gave him a look of askance.
He cleared his throat before whispering, “We’re not alone.”
Her eyes widened slightly and she nodded in understanding. She disengaged herself from him and straightened out her clothes before she dared to look around and see how many people had noticed their public display of affection. Fortunately, if anyone took notice, she did not see them giving much of a care one way or the other.
Everyone still kept their distance. She was not sure if this was the protocol or just something that happened to work out that way at this time. If it was protocol then they were in grave violation of it by being in much closer proximity to Inari than anyone else present.
Once they were in a less indisposed state, Inari approached them. Rina was not sure what she was supposed to do. He was claiming responsibility for them, but they were not allied with him. They had never declared themselves to be on his side of things so she did not think she needed to bow, but she did not know if she should show him any particular level of respect anyway. She knew she was over thinking about protocol again and should just assume that Inari knew that she did not know what to do and would not hold her accountable for any faux pas on her part. She only hoped that Souma would not do anything that might come across as too disrespectful after all, Inari was here to help them.
She reached out and have Souma’s hand a gentle squeeze. It might not be much, but she wanted him to know that she was going to be here for him no matter what and that he did not need to be upset or fight with this deity today, or ever.
“We would like to invite you back to my palace here in Diyu while we make arrangements for you to return to your homes.”
Rina merely stared. It was the only way she could react to being spoken to directly by Inari. Even with the statement diluted by being spoken to the two of them at once, she still found it overwhelming. It was a completely different experience to being spoken to by King Yama. At first, she was not sure why it was so different, but then it occurred to her. Inari was the ruler of kitsune and it was some sort of divine right. She might consider herself to be human now, but a very big part of her was still a kitsune and just being in his presence brought out that part of her more strongly than anything else she knew.
Souma stood up. He looked Inari directly in the eyes and showed him no deference at all. “We’re in your custody now so we will do as you say.”
Inari nodded and walked away. The rest of the kitsune followed after him and Souma and Rina were pulled along with the group.
After seeing Souma for so long, it was odd to see Hibiki again, but Rina knew that it was necessary. They were going home today and he needed to appear human so he did not cause a stir if anyone saw him.
Rina still felt like something not quite human or kitsune. She imagined that feeling would not be going anywhere anytime soon. She trusted it would get easier to deal with in time even if the feeling did not fade. Knowing she would have Hibiki with her also meant that she knew she at least had someone she could talk to about all of this and he would understand to a degree.
The rest of her memories from her former life were still locked away. She did not know if King Yama was just unwilling or actually unable to reverse what he had done to her, but she was not going to go back to find out. She knew enough now, probably more than she would ever want to know and she was ready to look to the future.
She was still not sure how she felt about Inari. She was grateful, of course, that he had helped them, but she was not sure if she was expected to now swear loyalty to him or if a thank you would suffice. She knew that Souma would never work with Inari willingly. He might be indebted to the deity now but the relationship would go no further than that. His grudge was too deep. It was deeper than her own, she had to admit that, but she did not suffer nearly as much at the hands of Inari’s servants as he did and a lot of the pain and suffering they had caused her were not actually a part of her memories, but rather something that she heard about through Souma. His pain and suffering were much more real than hers.
Their time in Inari’s palace in Diyu was a chance for them both to figure out where they stood with each other. Essentially, they were able to resume what they had been trying to do before his arrest.
The time did the trick. Things got figured out. It was such a relief to finally know what she was feeling. She understood now. She took the time to process it. She felt so much better about everything. Moving on was less a matter of being about to forgive Hibiki for his deception and more a matter of coming to understand just how necessary it had been for him to be discrete.
She hid a lot from everyone for quite a while and now she needed to figure out how she was going to live normally while knowing everything she knew and being who she was. Hibiki was a huge help to her in figuring all this out and in just a few short days it brought them back together.
At first they had been unsure whether they were free to go, but eventually, the kitsune became more transparent and they knew that they could leave as soon as they felt they were ready.
If they were honest they probably had been ready to return for a day or two now, but since they reconciled and were not being rushed out of this place they could not pass up the opportunity to have some time together and away from their responsibilities. It was a bit like a vacation now. They were away from home, away from all worries and responsibilities and could just relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Inari’s servants here at his Diyu palace were kind enough to give them neighboring rooms. After the first night, they spent all their time together in Rina’s room.
Now she was thinking it was time to go back home. She missed her own bed and she missed her friends and family. More than anything she wanted to get her life back on track and figure out when she could get back to her education, but at the moment she was having a hard time concentrating.
She laid stretched out in bed, barely awake and just trying to sort out her thoughts before the harsh light of day had a chance to interfere. Hibiki was behind her, being more of a distraction than she wanted to admit. He was brushing his fingertips over her body, his touch light enough to barely be there, but present enough to give her goosebumps.
“We should probably go home soon,” she whispered, hoping that she could divert him away from distracting her from the topic she was mulling over.
Instead of answering, he put his arm around her and drew her back against his body. He kissed her shoulder and sighed.
“We should go back,” he agreed. “Are you sure you’re ready to deal with the consequences?”
“I’m not going to be any more ready if we wait.”
“True enough.” He ran a trail of kisses up her neck to her ear.
“What are you going to do when we go back?” She rolled over to face him, hoping that making eye contact would help keep him on topic.
Eye contact did not do much to distract him from his mission of distracting her. He stroked her cheek before leaning in for a kiss. She closed her eyes and permitted herself to get lost in the kiss by telling herself that it would be the only one. Soon enough she realized she had trouble determining where one kiss ended and another began.
It was getting pretty close to lunchtime when Rina was able to get back to her thoughts. Now it seemed like she would have a chance to think clearly. Hibiki was satisfied and resting next to her so her mind was free to wander again.
She stretched languidly and put her mind to work. If they were going home today they needed to get up and get the day started. Anything else they did only distracted them from what they needed to accomplish.
She knew she should get out of bed and do something, anything that would get them closer to going home, but she just did not have the energy to do it. She sighed and promised herself that she would try again in a minute.
He grunted, half asleep in response.
“What are you going to do when we go back?”
He propped himself up on an elbow and faced her. “I’m not sure. I thought I would get us a house, maybe get a job to keep up appearances.”
She laughed at that. “Keep up appearances?”
“I told you before, I don’t need to work. I have a lot saved up from over the years. It’s just a matter of keeping people from wondering how I managed to live.”
“I see,” she agreed with more than a little suspicion. “But why not finish going to college?”
He shrugged lazily. “I don’t feel like going through the hassle.”
“Would it be a hassle for me to continue going to school?”
“Of course not,” he insisted and gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. “You should finish your education.”
“It’s going to be complicated, though, and I’m not sure my mother is going to be very supportive of me after everything that has happened.”
“I’ll make sure you can finish college if that’s what you want.”
“Thank you. I’ll get a job too.”
“You don’t need to. Focus on your studies. We won’t need to worry about money.”
“Ah, but it’s part of keeping up appearances, isn’t it?”
“Are you using my own logic against me?”
“No. I’m using your logic for me. At this point, I have just as much I need to hide from curious people as you do. We both need to appear normal so we don’t have the wrong people asking questions.”
He sighed. “I don’t want you to have to work.”
“Don’t make it a sore point. I’m volunteering. I know you could be the sole supporter, but you don’t need to be. Maybe some day I’ll sit back and let you take care of me, but for now, I want to contribute.”
“Fine,” he agreed with a sigh.
Rina wrapped a sheet around herself and got up out of bed. She knew now one of them needed to get the ball rolling and all of this talk made her think that she really should get back home ad get on with her life. After a bath and some clothes, and a bit of a coaxing to get Hibiki to play along with her, they were ready to go and get out into the palace and back to living as regular human beings.
Once they asked the Tenko here were ready to go and had a path back to the human world set up before the afternoon was over. Leaving was not hard. They were not saying goodbye to any friends here. They had made some good memories in this place, but overall Diyu was not a place Rina thought of fondly and she was sure that Hibiki was not a big fan either.
She was not sure what to expect when she went through this portal back to the human world. The strange hallway with all of the doors was enough to make her nervous. She was not sure that she could endure that experience again. She was not sure that she had it in her to figure out what she needed to do to get back out of that place again. She just hoped that they would be more skillful in the creation of their pathway between worlds than she had been. It would probably save a lot of headaches if they could just get it right.
Neither of them had much to take with them. Rina still had her small pack and that was it. Hibiki was wearing borrowed clothes and had nothing else to his name with him here. If they did not end up back in a familiar place it was likely that their lives would be more than a little interesting.
She knew that she was making things take longer than they needed. Hibiki had already tried stepping forward to pass through the portal, but she was gripping his hand and would not budge from her spot. He turned and looked back at her with a questioning look on her face. She gave him a shy, apologetic smile and tried her best to get her feet moving.
Hibiki was wonderfully patient and merely stared at her and waited for her to make up her mind on her own. He gave her hand a gentle, reassuring squeeze and she felt a bit of strength transfer from him to her. Now she was ready.
She squeezed his hand back and took a step forward. They passed through the portal together.
Whatever the Tenko did differently to make this portal, they did a fine job and within a moment they were back int he living room of Motoko and Akimitsu’s home in the human world. Rina looked around, shocked to the point of being unable to speak at just how easy it had been. She only wished she knew how to make something that efficient herself. She supposed she would have the rest of her life to figure that out and she could only hope that she would never need to use it again.
Hibiki was next to her looked around and smiling. He looked so happy to be home again in familiar place. She could not help but smile too when she saw how relaxed he was.
Then his smile started to fade. Rina started to look around too to figure out what had caused him so much disappointment. A slightly less superficial look around the room seemed to indicate that this home had not been lived in for at least a few weeks.
A small thrill of panic hit her. She did not know what to make of that. They had not been gone that long. She did not know if she could say for sure how many days they were gone, but she knew it was not long enough for there to be this many weeks of absence in the house. She had been living here herself not that long ago, but now it did not appear as though that had happened recently.
“Damn,” Hibiki said under his breath. He went over to the window and looked out.
Rina followed him, wondering what he was trying to see.
“It’s spring,” he explained as he continued to look out the window.
“What?” Rina exclaimed. She quickly looked out the window too. He was not wrong. It had been the middle of winter when they left. It was cold, snowy and the trees were bare. Now outside everything was green.
“Damn,” she echoed his choice of words. “How long were we gone?”
“A couple months, I’d say.”
“If we’re lucky,” she said under her breath.
“It hasn’t been longer,” he assured her.
“How can you be sure?”
“This place has not been empty for that long. Motoko and Akimitsu would not have stayed here for all that long with both of us gone. They did not have any reason to stay.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. A few months of lost time was a huge deal, but it was a lot easier to handle than more than a year.
Hibiki placed a kiss on her forehead. “Do you want to stay here tonight?”
She nodded. “I need to get my bearings again before I figure out how I’m going to get back to my life. I wasn’t counting on so much time having passed.”
“Yeah. It’s hard to guess how time works between different dimensions.”
She gasped. Hibiki looked to her for an explanation and she quickly gathered her thoughts so she could tell him just what was wrong.
“My mother. I’ve been gone for months and she hasn’t heard a word from me. I need to let her know I’m here and I’m okay.”
“What are you going to tell her?”
She considered if for a moment, but she quickly knew what she needed to do.
“I’m going to tell her the truth. She deserves to know. I’m not going to go back to hiding things from the people important to me. I’ve lost count of the number of chances I’ve had and I’m finally ready to do the right thing.”