Have It Your Way
Mikage looked down at her folded hands and wondered if this could be her fault.
Have I pushed him too hard? Are my standards too high?
Ushio had been working hard to succeed in the Special Investigation Unit, but he had always been a Duel Chaser, and well suited to it. Chasing people down and subduing them with brute force was what he was best at, and while she couldn't deny that he had earned a promotion, she wasn't quite sure yet if this new career was going to work for him. He was trying so hard, though, to be a good partner to her. Of course something like this would happen. Brave, noble, stupid Ushio, rushing bull-like straight at the problem. And now he was lying in an operating room for his troubles...
I should have taken more responsibility. I shouldn't have just let things be. If I'd taken the time to plan out our next step instead of just letting matters drop, he wouldn't be here now...
Well, it was out of her hands now. She had already seen Yusei and the others leave the hospital with looks of vengeance on their faces, and she had a feeling that by morning, there would be no more need to worry about the Ghost. As for Ushio, he was in the hands of the doctors. Surely they would look after him. He was strong; there was no way he would let something like this finish him off. Even if he had looked to be in awfully bad shape....
Perhaps Mikage dozed a little, in spite of her worries, because the next thing she knew, a nurse was bending over her.
"Are you Officer Sagiri?" she asked. "You're here for Officer Ushio, right?"
"That's right," said Mikage. "How is he? Is he all right?"
"He's doing fine," the nurse assured her. "The operation went smoothly. We've got him on a course of accels now, and he's responding beautifully. He must be in wonderful shape for a man his age."
Mikage nodded. The accelerated healing drugs boosted the rate a person's body would heal itself, but they tended to work best on people who were already young and healthy to begin with. On small children, they could work cures that were almost miraculous, but they tended to lose their effectiveness as a person grew older.
"He is," she said. "He takes pride in it."
"Well, you don't have to worry, then. At this rate, he'll still be a little stiff tomorrow, but he should be well enough to walk out on his own in the morning."
"What a relief," said Mikage. "May I see him?"
"I don't think they're ready to let him have visitors yet," said the nurse, "but I'll ask. What's your relation to him?"
"I... we're partners," she said.
The nurse gave an understanding nod. "I'll see what I can do, then."
As the nurse walked away, Mikage found herself wondering if perhaps the nurse thought that she had meant Ushio was a romantic partner. She supposed it was a reasonable assumption to make when seeing a young woman worrying herself sick over a man in the hospital, but that really wasn't it at all. They were partners - something much more than just coworkers, more complex than friendship, different from a romance but not so very different. Even if all her dreams had come true and she had married Jack and settled down to live happily ever after with him (which seemed unlikely at this point, but a girl could dream), she still would have gotten out of his bed to come sit in the hospital until she knew for certain that Ushio was all right. When she was out in the field investigating potentially dangerous criminals, he was the one she trusted to guard her back and protect her from all harm, just as he relied on her to know what to say and how to act, and to notice the things that he overlooked. Getting by without each other was simply not an option. No one else would be able to do his job in quite the same way - after working with him constantly for months, she knew what he would do in any situation without the bother of asking him. He knew what she would do in the same way. They had to, to be able to count on each other in situations where there was no leisure to talk things out.
Which is why I should have known this was coming. I guess this partnership still needs some work.
Mikage raised her head. The kind nurse was back. "Yes?"
"The doctors say you can visit your friend for a few minutes," she said. "He's still a little bit groggy from the medicine he's on, but you can talk to him. He's been asking for you."
"Thank you," said Mikage, and stood to follow the nurse.
Ushio was resting in a neat white room, looking relaxed and comfortable. Whatever the doctors had given him, he seemed to no longer be feeling any pain. If it weren't for the bandages, he might have looked as though he'd only lay down there for a nap. There were fewer bandages than there had been before - Mikage could see that his bare chest and arms were marked with a number of abrasions, but none of them seemed to be serious. The only sign of any real trauma were a couple of rows of neat stitches where he'd been operated on. Mikage reflected that he was going to add a few more interesting scars to his collection. As she drew nearer, he turned his head to smile lopsidedly at her.
"Hi," he said.
"Hello, Ushio. You look like you're feeling better," she said.
"You look beautiful."
He really is drugged up, she realized, and laughed.
"Well, thank you very much!" she said. She certainly didn't feel like she looked beautiful. She felt like she looked like she'd just spent the better part of the night sitting awake and worrying, snatching what winks of sleep she could get while sitting on a hospital's waiting room chair. Even if he was only saying it because of the medication, it still felt nice to hear someone say it.
"They told me you would come," he said. "Where were you?"
"I was right outside waiting for you. You know I wouldn't go away and leave you at a time like this."
"Is Yusei here? There was something important I was gonna tell him. I was gonna tell him..."
"It's all right. You already told him. Everything is going to be fine."
"Oh. Okay." Ushio closed his eyes and leaned back against his pillow. "I sure feel funny. Am I drunk?"
Mikage had to stifle a laugh. "No, you're not. You're in the hospital - you wrecked your D-Wheel."
"I shouldn't have been driving that if I was drunk. That's illegal."
"You didn't do anything illegal, Ushio."
"That's good. They wouldn't let me come back to work if I did that."
"That is good," she agreed. "We all want you to come back. Everyone's been worried about you."
"Were you worried about me?"
She lowered her eyes. "Yes. I was very worried about you."
Ushio surprised her by reaching out to take one of her hands and close it firmly in his own.
"Don't you ever worry about me," he told her firmly. "I'll always come back for you. You'll see."
Mikage hadn't cried when she'd heard that her partner had been in an accident, not even when she'd known he was in critical condition and no one was quite sure whether he would make it through the night. She hadn't cried when she'd seen him wheeled past her swathed in bandages. Maybe it was the intervening hours of worry and no sleep that had worn her down, but now, hearing him sounding so confident, feeling the strength of his hand around hers, she found herself blinking back tears.
"All right, then," she said, "but don't forget - you promised."
"Won't forget," he said drowsily. She got the impression that he'd already forgotten what they'd been talking about.
There was a knock on the door.
"Officer Sagiri?" said the nurse. "Your time is almost up. Better say goodnight."
"All right," she called back. She returned her attention to Ushio. "You heard her. It's time for me to go, but I'll be back in the morning, okay?"
"Okay," he said. "Nighty-night." And then: "I love you."
Mikage felt her cheeks flaming.
"You," she said, "are drugged to the eyeballs. You'll feel more like yourself tomorrow."
"But I feel like myself now...."
She made a sound that was half-laughing, half-exasperated. "Oh, fine, have it your way." She stood, and, brushing his hair away from his face, kissed him lightly on the forehead. "I love you too - now get some sleep. Maybe you'll be able to make more sense in the morning."
"Whatever you say..."
She left him lying there with his eyes closed, his expression peaceful. She almost felt a little guilty for humoring him that way, but if it made him feel better, what was the harm? He probably wouldn't remember any of what she'd said once he'd come out of his drugged stupor anyway. Still, it made her feel uneasy to tell someone she loved him when really all she felt was... whatever she felt.
"How is he?" the nurse asked.
"He seems fine," Mikage replied. "A little bit out of it, like you said. Is there anything else I can do for him?"
"Go home and rest," the nurse told her kindly. "He's out of danger, and he's in good hands. You can come back in the morning and give him a lift home. And if you want, buy him breakfast - those accels give a person an appetite."
She smiled a little. "I can do that."
Feeling reassured, she drove herself home and made her way wearily to bed. It had been a long day; she needed some rest if she was going to be good for anything at all the next day. Yet no sooner had she closed her eyes then she found herself thinking of all sorts of plans. She should have asked what time the hospital planned to release him. And did he have anything to wear? Perhaps she should fetch him a new uniform to replace the one that had been destroyed in the wreck. She wondered what he would like for breakfast....
Somewhere along that train of thought, her mind drifted away, and she discovered that she could sleep after all.
Ushio was released from the hospital the next morning, turned over into Mikage's capable hands. He was, as promised, a bit stiff and sore, and still showing some signs of bruising, but on the whole he looked very little like someone who had barely come through the night with his life intact.
"Don't let him drive until tomorrow," the doctor cautioned her. "And no more picking fights with strange duelists!"
"He picked a fight with me first!" said Ushio, which told Mikage that he was feeling like his old self again.
"Come on," she told him. "I got a call from Yusei a little while ago - we're supposed to go meet with him later. But first, we're getting breakfast."
He brightened a little at that prospect. "Good idea. I'm starving."
She led him to her car and succeeded in convincing him that the doctor had really meant it when he said Ushio shouldn't drive until he had recovered a bit more. He did not, however, argue with her when she stopped at the first place they came to that served breakfast. Neither of them had been there before, but it was bright and clean, with checkered tablecloths and friendly waitresses who treated them as if they'd been going there all their lives.
"This is nice," said Mikage as she unfolded her menu and sipped at her coffee. She'd always been a confirmed tea-drinker until she'd started working night shifts for the Special Investigation Unit, but now she was starting to appreciate the stuff. "We'll have to come back here again sometime."
"Oh, you know what I mean." To cover up her embarrassment, she looked down at her menu and said briskly, "Order whatever you like. Today is my treat."
"You're sure about that?"
"Absolutely," she said. "You've had a hard night and you deserve some special treatment."
"Well, you're the boss."
Afterwards, she had to admit that she couldn't say he hadn't tried to warn her. She ate her own meal slowly and watched with increasing amazement as he engulfed a double stack of pancakes and a generous order of eggs and sausages. She was beginning to wonder just where he was putting it all when he finally pushed his plate away with a sigh.
"Okay, now I feel human again," he said.
"What did you feel like before?" she teased.
"One of those mummies from the movies," said Ushio. "Not so good, that's for sure."
"Well, I'm glad you're feeling better now. I was really worried about you," she said. "We all were."
"Don't you ever worry about me," he told her. "I'll always come back for you."
That's exactly what he said before...
"Ushio," she said, "do you remember me coming to visit you last night?"
He frowned. "Did you? I can't really... I mean, I was pretty out of it. Everything after I got hit is a big blur."
"Oh, well, forget it, then," she said. She wasn't sure if she was relieved or disappointed.
"Look, are you sure you want to pay for all this?" he asked. "Because I can get it. It's no problem, really."
"No, I said I'd do it and I'll do it," she said, raising her chin. And she did, even if it did come to nearly twice what she'd been expecting to pay out.
"So where to next?" Ushio asked, as they walked back out to the car. Out of habit, he started to climb into the driver's seat, and quickly stopped and held the door open for Mikage when he caught her glaring at him.
"Yusei's house," she said. "They've caught the Ghost, in a manner of speaking."
"What do you mean by that?"
"It wasn't anyone human. It was a robot," Mikage explained. "Going by the descriptions they gave me over the phone, it sounds like the Riding Roid that was stolen from Security ten days ago."
"A robot? You mean I got beat up by a damn machine? Sorry, Mikage," he added quickly. "It just slipped out."
"You're forgiven," she said. "Just don't speak like that in front of the children."
"Sure thing. You got it," he promised. He walked around to get in at the passenger side. "Um... thanks for breakfast, Mikage. I was thinking maybe I could pay you back sometime... I dunno... maybe I could take you out to dinner?"
She gave him a thoughtful look, wondering just what he was getting at. Then she decided it didn't matter. He was her partner, and that meant no one else would ever occupy quite the same place in her world that he did.
"Oh, all right," she said. "Have it your way."