Things were ordinarily quiet in Yamaki's apartment at this time of night. The dinner things had been cleared away a long time ago, and now the evening had been given over to unwinding, quietly re-gathering the energy that would be needed for the next day. Not that anything interesting never happened there, but Reika knew well enough that if something was going to happen, it would happen after her partner was done watching the eleven o'clock news. The order of the hour was to relax and unwind a bit. It was not a time for unexpected sounds, and yet, she heard something.
"Are you all right?" she called.
There was a suspicious sniffling noise.
"It's the weather changing," Yamaki muttered. "Stirs up all kinds of dust and mold... I must be allergic to something."
"Well, take something for it," she told him. "You don't need to be sneezing all night if you don't have to be."
He made a noncommittal noise, and Reika sighed.
"If you won't take it, I'll make you take it," she informed him. "You aren't doing anyone any good making yourself suffer. I don't care how tough you are; it's not a breach of your integrity to take a bit of cold medicine."
She was rewarded by the sound of him shuffling off in the direction of the medicine cabinet. A few minutes later, he walked into the living room and dropped onto the sofa, settling back and closing his eyes. Reika came over for a better look. He appeared drawn and tired, and she frowned a bit.
"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked. "You don't look well."
"I'm fine," he said. He sneezed again. She pressed a hand to his forehead, still frowning.
"You don't feel fine to me," she said. "You seem a bit feverish. I think you might be coming down with something."
"It's nothing," he said. "It'll probably be gone by - achoo! - morning."
"You'd better hope so," Reika replied. "You aren't going to work like that."
"It's nothing," Yamaki said again. "I can deal with something as insignificant as a head cold."
Reika bit her tongue to stop herself from telling Yamaki it had been allergies a few minutes ago. She had a notion he wouldn't take that kind of talk well, even from her, if he really was feeling sick; it was liable to make his temper even worse than normal.
"I know you can," she answered. "I just don't know if you should. I wish you would take better care of yourself."
"Humph," he said. "Well... maybe I will turn in early tonight. I'm sure I'll feel better after a few hours sleep."
"That sounds like a good idea," said Reika encouragingly. "And take a hot shower before you go to bed. Hot showers are good for, um, allergies."
She waited to see if he was going to have some remark about that, but apparently he felt worse than he was willing to admit, because he only said, "I think I will." He glanced at the clock. "I suppose there's no point in staying up any later. Excuse me."
He pulled himself to his feet, wincing a bit and pressing a hand to his forehead. Reika watched him with concern. Poor Mitsuo. He wanted so badly to be strong enough to deal with anything. Usually he was so strong, but when that strength failed him...
*He's got to be hating this,* she thought, with a mix of wry amusement and pity. *Oh, well. Maybe he's right. Maybe he will feel better in the morning. I hope so, anyway.*
She evaluated her situation and decided Yamaki was right - there really was no point in staying up any later. He obviously wasn't in any shape for being companionable tonight, and probably wouldn't appreciate her being up and doing things when he couldn't. Considering that there wasn't anything she really wanted to do right now, anyway, an early bedtime didn't sound like that bad an idea. She went to slip into her nightgown and settle down in bed, closing her eyes and letting herself relax. A while later, her partner returned, still smelling faintly of soap. He crawled into place next to her, turned out the light, and they both slept.
Morning still came too early. Yamaki heard the alarm clock go off and made a despairing noise; not only did he not want to get up yet, but the noise was entirely disagreeable to his aching head. Next to him, Reika stirred a little.
"Turn the clock off..." she murmured sleepily.
He fumbled blindly for the alarm clock and finally managed to silence it. Reika sat up and stretched, but he stayed where he was. She turned to look at him inquisitively.
"Aren't you going to get up?" she said. "Or are you still not feeling well?"
"I'm feeling like death reheated, but I suppose I'll have to deal with it," he answered grumpily.
He tried to sit up, only to have Reika put out a hand to stop him. She only gave him a gentle push, but the force of that plus the headache moving around stirred up was enough to force him back down again. He closed his eyes resignedly and felt a cool hand touching his forehead.
"Still feverish," she informed him.
"That doesn't matter. I have work to do."
"Work will wait," she said. "The world will not stop turning just because you took a day off."
Yamaki didn't look convinced. "What if something happens?"
"If something happens, they can deal with it," said Reika. "Everyone's used to the routine by now; they can handle the everyday sort of Wild Ones without you telling them to, and if something really out of the ordinary comes up, they can call you. In the meantime, you won't be doing anyone any good if you go and give your cold to the rest of the lab."
"Hm," he said.
Reika took that as compliance, and nodded her approval.
"You stay there and rest," she told him. "Do you feel like eating breakfast?"
"I'm not that sick. It's just a head cold, not the bubonic plague. You fret too much over me, Reika."
"Someone has to. You never worry about yourself," she replied. "That's probably why you're sick - working too hard, worrying too much, never getting enough sleep..."
"All right, all right, you've made your point. You can spare me the lecture," he said. "Wake me up when breakfast is ready."
He rolled over, and, to all outward appearances, went back to sleep. However, doing that was harder than it had any right to be. Now that he was halfway awake, he was becoming more aware of his physical state, and he wasn't finding out anything he liked. His head was splitting, he ached all over, his throat felt sore, his eyes burned, and even breathing was an effort. Much as he hated to admit it, he really would be better off staying home and resting, no matter how much his conscience nagged him that he ought to be out doing something. Still, resting wasn't going to be easy when he couldn't even get comfortable. He lay still, listening to the noises going on outside his room; it sounded like Reika was having a telephone conversation. A few minutes later, she returned.
"I talked to the men in charge," she said. "They gave us permission to take the day off. They were surprised. I can't believe you haven't taken a sick day since you started working there."
"I haven't need them before now... Us?"
"You haven't needed them, or you just went to work anyway?"
"That doesn't make any difference now. What's this about us?"
"Us. Me and you. We are taking the day off. I have some vacation days I need to use up," she said. "And don't you argue with me, either."
He sighed. "Lucky for you, I'm in no mood to argue. If you want to waste your vacation time, that's up to you."
There wasn't anything else to say, after that. Yamaki settled back into his pillow, half- closing his eyes. Reika was ignoring him now, which was usually the best way to deal with him when he was in a bad mood, instead concentrating on her morning routine. Reika liked to look nice, no matter what the situation was, and she saw no reason to do otherwise just because she wasn't going to be going out today. He watched her as she picked out an outfit and began grooming herself. It was a source of eternal fascination to him, watching her apply her makeup with all the care of a master artist, brushing out her hair so gracefully...
*Maybe she's right; maybe I have been working too hard lately,* he mused, letting his eyes close. *Once this Digimon business is under control, maybe we should look into a vacation. A long vacation. Somewhere tropical and secluded...*
A wave of dizziness hit him, and he reluctantly banished the pleasant fantasies; it seemed his resources were too depleted at the moment to even think about doing anything. He would have to stick to admiring her from a less visceral level for a while. Not that it was hard to do...
He dozed a while, not stirring until Reika reappeared carrying a tray with fruit, toast, and a steaming cup of tea. He realized how good the hot tea would feel to his aching throat and accepted it gratefully.
"Hot tea with lemon," Reika said. "My grandmother always said there was nothing better for colds and sore throats than hot tea with lemon."
He drank the hot concoction down slowly, letting it work its magic. The warm steam felt good to his abused respiratory system.
"Thank you," he said, when it was gone. "And I thank your grandmother, too."
Reika laughed a little. "Was that a joke? You must not be as sick as all that. Maybe I should have gone to work after all."
"Don't tease," he said. "I mean it. I... really am glad you decided to stay with me today."
"What choice did I have? You need me to take care of you."
"Yes, I do," he agreed.
She smiled fondly and bent to kiss his cheek.
"Eat your breakfast and get some rest," she ordered. "I'm going to go to the store and get some things, but I'll be right back, okay?"
"It's not like I can stop you," he said. He took one of her hands and held it briefly, then let it go. "Don't be gone long."
"I won't. Sweet dreams, Mistuo."
She ruffled his hair affectionately, and then wandered away. He sighed a little; the room seemed so much emptier with her gone. Oh, well, she would be back, and until then, he had his orders. Dutifully, he ate his meal, and settled back to sleep until she returned.
The street was hazy, shaded by a grey fog and twilight. All the buildings looked alike, angular slabs of concrete pockmarked with windows, and nothing was familiar. Yamaki wandered the streets and alleys, searching for something he recognized. He had to get back to the places he knew, or something terrible would happen. Slipping through the shadows were vague but unmistakable silhouettes - wild Digimon roaming freely through the streets. They brushed past him, so close he could almost touch them, and then vanished before he could see them clearly. He had to do something about them, but what could he do? He had to get back to Hypnos...
Too late. One of the monsters had taken notice of him. It turned, its eyes glowing evil as it threw blasts of fire. He dodged out of the way, but the fireballs struck the nearest wall, and it began to crumble down on top of him with a mighty roar, and...
He woke up sweating and gasping for air. For a moment, he stared around, trying to get his bearings. There was a still a rushing noise in the air, and it took him a while to compute what was really going on: he'd been having a fever-dream, and Reika was vacuuming the carpets. He sighed and dropped back against the pillow.
As he let the tension from the fearful dream ebb away, he noticed a few small changes in his room. Reika had clearly finished her shopping, and had placed a number of supplies next to his bed. He took note of the usual collection of tissues, cough drops, and cold medicines, along with a pitcher of water. The excitement of the dream left him thirsty, and he poured himself a drink. Then, just because it was there, he helped himself to a cough drop, just because he knew Reika would notice if he ignored her offerings.
For a while, he did nothing but lie there and drift, listening his lover happily sang her way through the housework. She loved to sing, as long as she thought no one was listening - while cleaning, doing housework, in the shower, or wherever else she might happen to be. He'd gotten used to that. He'd also gotten used to the fact that she was always going to sing just a little bit off-key. At least it was a cheerful sound, pleasant and comforting to hear after his dreams.
After a while, the vacuuming noises stopped, and Reika returned.
"Oh, so you're awake," she said. "How are you feeling?"
"Bored," he replied. "Do you really intend to make me stay in bed all day?"
She considered a while. "Well, if you really feel like getting up, I don't suppose it would hurt. Just don't go overboard."
"I shall be very careful not to strain myself walking to the sofa," he answered dryly.
He got up, pleased to find that his headache was already fading from a stabbing pulse to an ignorable dull pain. Reika watched him, amused by the sight of her normally immaculate partner shuffling around the house in the middle of the day in his pajamas and carrying a box of tissues under his arm. She pulled a blanket off the bed and trailed after him. She found him settling himself on the living room couch and hunting for the remote control.
"And no smart remarks about how television rots your brain," he said to her.
"It's all right," she told him. "I think you're smart enough that an afternoon of television won't hurt you. Actually, I think I'll join you."
She snuggled against his side and pulled the blanket over the both of them, only half- watching as he flipped through the channels. Unfortunately, it was the middle of the day, and there didn't appear to be anything intelligent on. Yamaki clicked past assorted talk shows, a couple of soap operas, a made for TV movie, a nature special on Tasmanian bats... He didn't think he'd have the energy to waste on Tasmanian bats even if he wasn't sick. He was just about to give up when...
"Ooh, cartoons!" Reika squealed.
"What?" he said. He was not sure he'd heard right.
"Go back, go back!" she said, making a grab for the remote. She turned the channel backwards to where a few animated characters were having a lively discussion about something, involving many wild facial expressions and unlikely sound effects.
"You want to watch that?" asked Yamaki, surprised. He was having trouble believing this sensible, intelligent woman would be getting enthused over something so childish.
"Why not?" she asked. "It's ... traditional!"
"Yes," she said. "Come on! Don't you remember when you were a little kid, and you always actually kind of hoping you'd get sick so you could stay home and watch TV all day?"
"Hmph," he said. "I had better things to do than watch TV all day."
"Come on," she said. "The truth, now."
"Oh, all right. I suppose I did like to watch some things. I watched a few of those shows with the heroes and the big robots." His expression misted over with recollection. "I used to dream about being one."
"What? A hero? Or a big robot?"
He laughed in spite of himself. "You know what I mean!"
Reika giggled. "All right, all right, I do. Well, if you had been a hero with a robot, you would have been very good at it."
"The best," she said. "Me, I always wanted to be the princess in one of those fantasy series."
"Hm," he said, smiling a bit. "As I recall, the hero usually wins the princess in the end, doesn't he?"
"Yes, he does," she agreed, cuddling a bit closer to him.
"In that case, I think I'd rather not be one. I'd rather have you."
"Oh... don't say things like that! You're making me blush," she said, trying very hard not to smile and failing utterly. "Besides, you are supposed to be resting today, not flirting with me."
"Who says I can't do both?"
"You must be feeling better," she said. "You hardly ever talk like this even when you're feeling well."
"I do feel better. You were right - I did need a day off."
"Maybe now you'll listen to me more often," she answered. "I doubt it, though."
"Don't complain. You ought to feel flattered; you're the only one in the world who's had any success at making me do anything."
"Hm. You're such a stubborn idiot," she said fondly, snuggling closer to him. "Lucky for you, I admire you for it."
"Very lucky," he agreed. He slipped his arm around her and turned back to the screen, chuckling softly at something the characters were saying, thinking that cartoons might just have their uses, after all.
Ka-chink. Ka-chink. Ka-chink.
"What are you doing in there?" called Reika from the kitchen.
"Nothing," Yamaki answered.
"It had better be nothing," she said warningly.
"It's nothing. I'm not that stupid."
He sounded so sulky that she laughed. "All right, all right, I believe you. I was just making sure."
That set her off laughing again. He smiled faintly as he went back to reading, listening to her rattling around in the next room as she put the dinner dishes away. He might joke or even complain about her propensity to try to take care of him, but it was admittedly nice to not have to worry about doing everything for himself all the time, especially on days like this. Today was going to go down as one of her small victories; he was feeling nearly well already, well enough that he could concentrate on a book without falling asleep or developing a splitting headache.
*Never thought I'd actually enjoy having someone else trying to run my life,* he thought wryly.
He set his cigarette lighter back onto the coffee table. The thing seemed to have a magnetic attraction to his hand; he often found himself holding it without ever consciously thinking to pick it up. The nervous habit annoyed Reika, but not nearly as much as the habit that went with it. He gave a quick glance at the open package of cigarettes, but decided not to chance it. Reika would probably skin him alive if she caught him smoking while he was sick - he certainly didn't put it past her to try. She'd already conducted a fairly successful campaign to make him quit. He'd been completely against the idea, up until she'd managed to steal all his cigarettes and hide them from him long enough to prove he really couldn't get through the day without them. Just having it so undeniably presented to him that he was dependent on anything had been enough to make him think seriously about giving them up, if only to prove he could. He was cutting back, at least... but she was not going to make him relinquish his lighter for anything. He just felt unarmed without it.
A short while later, Reika reappeared. She gave her charge a considering look, then touched his forehead to check his temperature again.
"Fever's going down," she commented. "It won't be long before you're back to your old, sweet, agreeable self."
"No, I leave that job to you," he replied. "You do it better than I ever could, anyway."
She giggled. "I'm not sure that's really high praise, coming from you."
He tried to work out a clever retort to that, but it didn't really seem worth the effort. He gave a shrug and went back to his book. Reika dropped into a nearby chair, leaning back and closing her eyes. She yawned.
"I can't believe how tired I am," she said. "And we turned in early last night, too."
"You've been working hard today," he said. "Cleaning and cooking and shopping... you don't work this hard when you're at work."
"True. And today was a vacation day, too. Oh, well. Maybe a real vacation sometime would be nice..."
"I've been thinking the same thing. We should look into it very soon."
She nodded, and yawned again. "Gracious, excuse me..."
Yamaki checked his watch. "Well, it is getting late. If you want to go ahead and turn in, no one will blame you."
"I think I'll do that," she said. "Good night."
"Good night, Reika. Sleep well."
She slipped away, and he heard muffled sounds of her moving around the bedroom as she prepared for sleep. A short while later, he slipped a stray piece of paper into his book, put it aside, and went to join. She was already fast asleep. He climbed into bed carefully, trying not to wake her, but he did not got to sleep himself, not just then. He'd already slept most of the day, and he wasn't tired now, so he just stayed awake, watching her as she slept, looking so peaceful... At last, his eyes closed, and he drifted off to pleasant dreams.
The next morning began in the usual way, with the sound of an alarm clock ringing. Yamaki turned it off and sat up, rubbing at his eyes and trying to assess his physical state. The aches and pains that had plagued him yesterday were all but gone. There were probably a few sniffles and sneezes left to work through, but he didn't feel anywhere as bad as he'd felt yesterday. He was just considering whether or not Reika would actually allow him to go to work when-
Yamaki turned to look at Reika, who was wincing faintly. She made a quiet noise of pain and pressed a hand to her forehead.
"Oh, no," he said. "Don't tell me."
She obligingly said nothing, but she sniffled guiltily. He sighed.
"Well, at least we're well equipped," he said. "You stay where you are; I'll take care of things."
And he went to find the telephone, to explain to the people at work why he wouldn't be coming to work again today.