He tried to lift his head first, but it felt too heavy. With a bit of a struggle, he managed to open his eyes and blink a few times, trying to shake off the sleepy feeling and focus on his surroundings.
Headquarters appeared as the blur faded from his vision. He deduced that he had fainted again, though the memory as to why was taking its time to return to him, and normally he didn't feel so bleary after coming to.
At least he was comfortable. Somebody had been nice enough to lay him on the couch and had even put a pillow under his head. He rolled onto his back, yawning with a stretch and allowed himself to enjoy this peaceful moment. He noticed Disgust down on the other end of the couch, curled up near his feet. He was surprised to see her dozing there; she usually took care to not sleep in a way that would wrinkle her clothes. His gaze drifted away from her and towards the ceiling, too tired to dwell on it any further. He started nodding off again when he picked up a faint glow on the edge of his vision. That's when he noticed the pretty face sleeping over him.
A rush of adrenaline to his heart and a blush of color to his cheeks was enough to bring him to full alertness. How he had ended up on Joy's lap, he didn't know, but he was far too self-conscious to have the others waking up to catch him like this. Carefully and quietly he rolled himself off Joy's legs, off the couch and onto the floor with a thump.
He lay there a moment to allow his embarrassment to subside. The lights came flickering on, stinging his eyes momentarily. Riley was awake, though with the way the lights were blinking, it was clear she was just as groggy as he had been.
Getting to his feet, he peered through the blurry view screen and wobbled to the console to prompt the girl to look around. It only took him a few seconds to realize she had not woken in her bedroom.
Where were they? Had she been abducted? Had she slept-walked into a stranger's house? His mind racing with worst-case-scenarios, he rushed back to the couch and tried to rouse Joy.
"Joy! Wake up!" He cried. "Riley's awake but I don't know where we are!" He took her shoulders and shook. She let out a little moan but didn't open her eyes. "Joy! Come on, I need you!" He pleaded.
"Mmm…Why yes…I am a natural blue…" She murmured, smiling. She tilted forwards, her head landing against his chest. "Whoa… your heart is beating really fast."
"Yes, it tends to do that when I panic!" He shouted down at her. She opened her eyes lazily, staring up at him without any reaction to his yelling.
"It's like a hummingbird…" she cooed, raising a hand and lightly stroking his long nose. "You look like a hummingbird…"
He frowned at her, but at least she was awake. He hooked his hands under her arms and dragged her to the console. She gave him no resistance, only an elated, "Wheee!"
He leaned her onto the control panel and tilted her head up to look at the view screen. "Look, not Riley's bedroom." He explained.
Joy looked like she was making an attempt to examine the unadorned little room. There was a small window dressed with white curtains, a lamp on a side table, a door leading to somewhere, maybe a closet, and next to the bed Riley was lying in was a comfy looking chair. And in that chair was Mom reading a magazine.
"Hey look, it's Mom." She grinned, turning to Fear. "We've got nothing to worry about, Mom's here. Hi Mom!" She pulled down a lever, relieving Riley of the unease Fear had left her in and got her to do a little wave at her mother.
Fear felt embarrassed. In his panic he hadn't even noticed Mom sitting there. He hung his head low and watched silently as Joy took over driving Riley through a tipsy conversation.
"Hey sweetie, how are you feeling?" Mom asked, putting down her magazine.
"I'm feelin' okey- dokey." Riley's slurred giddily.
Mom smiled, stroking her daughter's head. "I'm glad. I told you those doctors would take good care of you."
"Doctors… Oh! We're still in the hospital!" Fear lifted his head, his memory finally returning. He smiled, taking Joy by the shoulders, only this time to give her a relieved hug. "We made it! We survived the surgery! Oh, thank goodness!"
"Yay!" Joy drunkenly responded, doing a dizzy twirl that almost ended with her falling on the floor if Fear had not caught her. She regained her balanced and pressed a few buttons.
Riley smiled blissfully, "What doctors?" She asked looking around. "This isn't my room."
"Honey, we're in the hospital, remember?" Mom asked her patiently, knowing her daughter wasn't completely lucid yet.
Fear tried to summon the memories from last night but nothing happened when he hit the button.
"Recall's not working." He frowned, watching the tube lower but deposit nothing into the projector. Joy giggled, taking his arm and directing his attention to the windows.
"That's because everyone's still sleeping." She said, pointing to the fog hanging over the Mind World. The clouds had receded away from the Islands of Personality and the Memory Dump, but a good portion was still shrouding the Long-Term shelves. "Sadness said the foggy stuff was the, um, Anastasia."
"Oh, you mean anesthesia." Fear nodded. "Now everything makes sense."
"This is too nice to be a hospital." Riley smiled, Joy's influence holding strong.
"Well, it is a hospital." Mom assured her. "Only the best hospital room for my loopy little monkey."
Right on cue Joy activated a lever that got Riley started making monkey noises with glee. Behind them Goofball Island lit up and bounced with bright energy.
Fear couldn't help but smile a little. Even though he wasn't fond of how the pain medication was making Riley act intoxicated, with Mom watching over her, he didn't have much to worry about. Although he did pull a lever back to lessen her activity a little…just to be safe.
When he looked up he noticed Joy staring at him with a dreamy expression.
"Did I ever tell you you're my favorite noodle?" She asked.
He raised an eyebrow, "Uh, no. I can't say you ever have."
"Well, you are." She smiled. "You're a good noodle." She stepped forward and pulled him into a tight hug, leaning into him in a way that made him blush. Flustered, he wriggled free and tried to gain control of the situation before Joy took it any further past his comfort zone.
"Wait! Let's not do anything we may regret here." He cautioned, trying to keep his composure. "You're still feeling the affects of the anesthetic. You're not in your right mind…"
Her smile suddenly vanished. Her eyes serious, as if he had just insulted her.
"I mean it…" She said. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
Her words made him feel uncomfortable, especially now that her eyes had lost their brightness. He could almost mistake them for Sadness's eyes.
"Riley could have died last night." She stared blankly, as if looking into an alternate timeline where the worst had happened. "I promised you I'd keep an eye on the pain meter… If you hadn't woken up…"
Fear now understood where all the extra affection had come from. He took her hand.
"Yes, she could have died…but she didn't…she's okay, Joy. Don't let it bother you."
"You guys have such wonderful ways to help Riley when she's in trouble." She confessed. "All I can do is put a smile on her face."
He was taken aback. It just wasn't natural to see her so downtrodden.
"Hey, what happened to, 'we all have our ways to help Riley'?" He frowned disbelievingly. "That smile is way more than ornamental. It's what lets me know I'm doing my job right. It's what lets me…what lets Riley know that everything is okay. It's what the rest of us are all working for!" He reached out for her, forgetting any potential embarrassment and took her in his arms.
She let out a sniffle. "I've made so many mistakes, like pushing Sadness aside. Now I keep questioning myself if I'm doing my job right."
"So? You can ask for help." He grinned slightly, "You gotta practice what you preach, sister. If Riley's stress isn't my responsibility alone, then her happiness isn't yours alone."
Her smile returned, timidly at first, but she understood how silly she probably sounded to him, after giving him a pep talk over the same exact problem. He was right. She was blessed and cursed just the same as the rest of the team with strengths and weaknesses they were all still learning to balance.
"Yeah, I guess that's true." She resigned, turning her attention to the screen when Mom was making silly faces at Riley, playing peek-a-boo with her magazine. Still high on pain medication, and Goofball Island at full power, the girl giggled like a two-year-old. Joy beamed. "Besides, they do say laughter is the best medicine."
Fear was smiling too, and silently thankful Disgust wasn't awake to criticize.
Now that Joy was fully sobered up, she and Fear got to waking the others. Fear had wisely chosen they save Anger for last; being rudely woken from his slumber made him grumpy, but rudely woken while under the influence of narcotics made him unpredictable, and the purple emotion had stood by with the fire extinguisher while Joy and Sadness cautiously coaxed him awake.
Thankfully the brick-shaped emotion was surprisingly mellow;
"Are we going to the zoo?" He mumbled and Joy brought him to his feet.
"Uh, sure." She answered with a shrug.
"Good. The monkey owes me money."
A plinking sound caught all their attentions. And they turned to see a series of memory orbs coming down the recall tube, landing in the projector one at a time before the next behind it pushed it out to take its place. A glance out the window surmised that the fog had completely lifted from Long Term and the Mind Workers down there had woken to find a large backed-up order for last night's memories on their itineraries that they were now quickly trying to make up time on.
The orbs scattered around Headquarters, making a quickly growing mess. But Riley now finally remembered the events of last night and had reached a level of coherence befitting a mature 12-year-old again, much to Disgust's relief.
"We're still feeling gross from the surgery. I'll drive now." She insisted once she was fully aware of her surroundings, and no longer wanting Riley to sit in bed as the giggling mess Joy had left her in. After all, what if friends dropped by to visit?
Sadness had been the first to notice Dad's absence that morning. Mom explained that he had gone to work, but would try to cut his day short in order to drop by and check in later. The whole group was relieved to hear from Dr. Miles that Riley could go home the next day and could be back to playing hockey by that weekend.
"Sweet, I can't wait to show the girls on the team our new scar." A now clear-headed Anger grinned.
That afternoon, Riley took a nap and woke to a plate of food left by the nurse for lunch. The turkey and mashed potatoes were alright, but what the hospital called 'dessert' wasn't going to win any accolades from her anytime soon.
"Aw, come on guys." Joy tried to cheer the others. "It's Jello. Look at it wiggle!"
Riley held the spoon up close, giving the gelatinous square a disappointed scowl as it vibrated.
"It's green." Disgust glowered.
"So?" Joy asked.
"So, they could have at least given us cherry. We're a sick child for crying out loud!" Anger growled.
"Nothing good is ever green" Disgust sneered, "except yours truly, of course." She preened with a sigh.
Joy did her best to keep her positivity. After all the pain killers had worn off, Riley was still a little sore from surgery and the other emotions were once again voicing their displeasure in their own unique ways. Disgust and Anger where managing 'cranky' as Riley's dominant mood with a chaser of Sadness lying over her portion of the controls, frowning. Only Fear seemed to be in a neutral state of mind, only occasionally peeking at the pain meter before resuming the clean up of the errant memory orbs that were still on the floor. Joy had noticed how he hadn't panicked or fretted or even frowned since that morning. Just stopping every so often to check up on Riley's well being, hitting a button or two to make sure she didn't move in a way that could pop her stitches, and went back to sending the memories back to Long Term. For the first time in a very long time, he didn't have anything else to do. Riley was in a safe place, her mother watching over her, and she had doctors on call in case anything came up, which was highly unlikely. Riley had nothing to fear, and after last night, that suited Fear just fine.
"Hey, how's my girl doing?" Asked Dad as he slid into the room, a bundle of paperwork and a laptop under one arm, a small paper bag in his other hand.
"Dad's back!" Joy beamed, making Riley's smile.
"Hey, Dad." Riley greeted, allowing him to give her a hug once he put down his office work. "I'm feeling better. Did you get what you needed done at work?"
He eyed his papers sitting on the foot of the bed. "Not all of it. But I'll take a work-from-home day to finish it up." He pat her head. "The only thing I want to focus on now is giving my little trooper this." He handed her the paper bag.
"What is it?" She asked curiously.
"It better not be one of those lame gift shop teddy bears that holds the little heart that has 'get well soon' written on it." Disgust sneered.
Instead of a teddy bear though, Riley removed a cup of vanilla soft serve, topped with hot fudge, rainbow sprinkles, whipped cream and a cherry on top.
"Alright! Ice cream!" Joy shouted.
"Good ol' Dad!" Anger cheered. "He knows what we really want."
"Ah, thanks Dad!" Riley grinned, taking the top off and tucking into her treat without hesitation.
Dad smirked pridefully, "I figured you'd need a break from the hospital food." He inspected the tray and the abandoned gelatin and turned up his nose. "Not even cherry, shame."
"Don't eat too fast Riley, or you'll make yourself sick." Mom warned.
Fear only barely pressed the button and she listened, slowing the pace of her gobbling. It reminded him of last night and the connection he had learned of between them. It had been brought up again that morning when Anger had proclaimed it unfair that Fear got 'wifi' while the rest of them needed the console. Sadness tried to explain Fear was special because of his role involving Riley's Sympathetic Nervous system, but her reading from the Mind Manuals only bored the others to find something else to do.
Thinking of it now, he wondered how sensitive it was. How much stress was really needed to trigger it? He was tempted to stand back from the console and will Riley to do something, but quickly decided against it. Nope. No matter how it came about, if it was Riley calling to him, or him influencing her, this was going to be an 'emergency only' thing. Though what sort of emergency could possibly arise that would necessitate him to drive Riley without the console? He wouldn't dare to think about it.
Instead he watched through the monitor as they all enjoyed the taste of ice cream and the company of Mom and Dad. Even Sadness was smiling as Riley discussed weekend plans like going to the mall.
"I could drive you and your friends there." Offered Mom. "Maybe help you pick out a new outfit?"
Riley almost choked on her spoonful of ice cream when Disgust pulled the stop lever. Fear scrambled to make sure the girl safely swallowed her mouthful.
"There is no way Mom is shopping for clothes with us and our friends." Disgust announced.
"But, let's let her down slowly so we don't sound like we're being rude." Joy interjected. The leader signaled to Sadness and Fear to take the controls with her and Disgust to orchestrate a proper response.
"Uh, that's okay Mom. We were gonna take the bus." She sheepishly added "And I can kinda pick out my own outfits."
The emotions all waited with anticipation, wondering if they had made the right call.
Mom didn't look wounded, but she frowned slightly before nodding with a smile.
"I understand, you want some time with just you and your friends."
Everyone in headquarters breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, thank goodness." said Disgust.
"There we go. See, nothing to worry about." Joy smiled.
"I was certain she'd be devastated." Sadness drooped. "Looks like I was wrong."
"Unless she was being passive aggressive. Did she sound passive aggressive to you?" Fear inquired.
"She was fine. Another point for Project Independence" Joy assured them.
"Wait, we're still doing that?" Anger asked from over his newspaper.
Joy glanced back up at the monitor where Mom could be seen fiddling with her wedding ring, looking a bit listless. She briefly wondered if Mom's Fear was causing the tick, anxious about the limited fun time she had left with her daughter.
The yellow emotion considered this before answering, "Well…yes. But with baby steps."
"Hey, Mom. On Sunday let's go to the park. You, me and Dad." Riley offered.
Mom's expression suddenly lifted, Dad too turned from his perusal of his paperwork to smile at them.
"That sounds like a great idea." She answered.
"I second that." Dad agreed.
A family group hug ensued.
"Not a bad idea Joy." Commended Disgust, glancing at the bulb that had just been planted in the console. "Mom and Dad get their quality time without butting in on our personal life."
"Well, it's kinda like what you said last night. We won't get moments with Mom and Dad like this forever. So, let's enjoy the ones we still have left."
Sadness nodded with as much enthusiasm as she was capable of. Disgust shrugged, but smiled. Anger laid the paper in his lap and watched the screen silently, but with a look of pleasure on his face. Fear folded his hands together, gazing into the monitor with large eyes transfixed, his axon curled into a heart shape. His contented smile told Joy she had defiantly made the right call, and she too took in the moment, the light from Family Island filling the windows behind them.
Riley Andersen's emotions could share her pain, her discomforts, her anxieties, but they could also taste the sweet vanilla of the ice cream still on her tongue, smell Dad's aftershave on his clothes, and feel the warmth of her parents' hug. And these were the moments the six of them lived for.
[Author's notes: Well, it's all over. It's amazing where a little idea can take you. Started with "What do the emotions do when Riley's sick? Do they feel her symptoms?" to "What if Riley got something life threatening and Fear could pick up on it?" to "Maybe Fear causes nervous behavior like nail biting, but doesn't do it consciously. I highly doubt the console has a button for that." Thanks again for everybody who reviewed. This certainly won't be the last you'll see of me for Inside/Out fiction, my Headquarters is buzzing with ideas, so stay tuned!]