This chapter has been edited thanks to my beta-reader Juubi-Ookamii, so all thanks should go to here and neither of us own this, but I know that I wish that I did. On with the story.
I'd been feeling off all day. At first I told myself it was because the injury I had sustained fighting Jake – I mean, it was all good me healing myself up with my 100 power, but a guy does have his limits you know. I wasn't completely myself yet, and I put off the uneasy feeling in my gut by telling myself that.
I tried to go about my day as normal as possible. With the whole city still shaking after Jake's attack, a resulting silence had fallen, as if even the criminals needed to take a moment to sigh in relief. Secretly, I was glad. Barnaby and I both needed a breather, and to be honest the paperwork was piling up. After all…there's only so many buildings a guy can smash up in the name of justice before it starts to come back and bite you in the arse. But then, as much as I hated and avoided the consequential paper-work, it was the price I was always willing to pay to defend the people I cared for.
Besides…if I put it off any longer I was going to be subjected to the mother of all lectures by a certain somebody, and with him just starting to call me by my actual name, I didn't want to risk it.
Staring at the papers, my vision swam and the letters jumbled unhelpfully, making me want to heave. I felt like someone had put a cotton filter between my brain and my eye-sockets, and then cracked my head against an anvil a few times. There was an unpleasant cloudiness, like an unwanted murmur in the back of my head, and it made the hair-rise on my arms, and sent shivers shooting sporadically down my spine. The more I tried to ignore it and concentrate, the more the feeling persisted, like feedback off a microphone.
A shocked voice rung above me and I squinted up to see Barnaby, looking as fresh-faced and dandy as man who had just come out of a face-off with his parent's killer shouldn't.
"Kotetsu." He said, and I blinked, realizing I was staring.
"I said – you're working."
I narrowed my eyes. "Wow. You're a real observant one." I noted sarcastically, and Barnaby tiled his head back so that the sun caught his glasses and the glare cut out sight of his eyes.
"I meant," He said patiently, moving past me to his own desk, "That you're working without my having force-feed it to you like a baby. Did Lloyd's threaten to fire you again?"
I grumbled beneath my breath and went back to work. "Shuddup." I grunted, "Just didn't feel like getting a lecture today, is all."
Barnaby raised his eyebrows in amusement and I pouted and looked down to my work again, furrowing my brow as the words squirmed into incomprehensible squiggles beneath my gaze. I gritted my teeth and massaged my forehead angrily, trying to clear my head. I could feel Barnaby's eyes on me, and I forced myself to keep reading, my pen in my hand. After a moment, my partner went to his own work (or rather, his part of my pile, because Bunny-chan never got insurance complaints.) Occasionally though, I felt his eyes snap back up to me. He knew something was wrong. I ignored him for as long as I could, but between the feedback in my skull, my partner's stares and the fact that I suddenly felt like someone had lit a furnace beneath me, I lost my patience.
Getting up, I made to go outside to get some fresh air, but the next moment the room was spinning around me and my body had defensively dropped back into my seat. My stomach lurched and my vision darkened like I was about to faint. I dropped my head onto my desk with a shaky breath, trying to expel the feeling. A concerned hand found itself on my shoulder, and the next thing I knew Barnaby was squatting by my desk, looking into my face. His features were pinched with worry. "Are you alright? You don't look well."
There was an odd fright in his eyes. The same look I had seen in my daughter's when Tomoe had first fallen sick.
"It's alright Kaede – I promise you, it's all going to be ok. Papa promises, see?"
"I'm fine Bunny-chan," I assured quickly, and I was lying. I had lied both times. "Just got a head-rush from standing up too fast. It happens more when you get older. See." I sat up, to show I was ok giving Barnaby a weak smile, but almost as soon as I was vertical again, black triangles began to appear in my vision. Bunny caught me as my head dropped forward again, and the next thing I knew I was being hoisted into his arms…Princess style.
'Oh for the love of…' I thought, but the cloudy pressure in my head had gotten so bad I couldn't achieve the dexterity enough in my tongue to form coherent words. 'He's using his Next powers…' I noted as I caught a faint blur of blue light from his eyes, as he calmly told Lloyd's secretary that he was taking me home. 'He's not supposed to use his next powers except to help people…'
He was helping me, I realized a moment later and shame colored my cheeks as I realized that in the space of a minute I had gone from being a hero to being…a victim.
Because of a headache?
A bad, nauseating headache that was making my skin flush hot like I had a fever, and cold icy tendrils of dread creep down my body.
But still, a headache.
My pride prickled. I was meant to defend this city, not have to be carried out of work like a baby. I forced my mouth to work through sheer-will and stubbornness. "Bunny – put me down. I can walk."
"If I put you down, you'll just drop old man." Barnaby replied.
Old man. I reached up and grabbed his cheeks with my hands, pinching them and pulling his face threateningly down to mine. "This old man isn't dead yet," I warned, "Bunny-chan."
Barnaby stared down at me, a vein popping in his forehead, and then quietly set me on my feet. I wobbled, but managed to stay upright, holding my hand up to show I was fine.
"There see, alls well." I tried to chide, but Bunny turned back toward the car-park.
"Wait here, I'm getting my car."
"Bunny, I live around the corner."
"Wait here." Bunny ordered, and walked out toward the vehicles. I stared after him, and thought about sitting inside a hot stuffy car. Immediately the warm, nauseating feeling returned to me, and I turned and leaving Bunny marched straight for the door and out into the street. From behind I heard my partner curse, but the cold wave of fresh air was such a relief for me that I could hardly apologize. My head seemed to clear for a moment, and I took in a long steadying breath. From behind me Barnaby approached with caution and I looked back to him.
"Can we walk?" I asked softly, and he stared into my face and then nodded. We moved on in silence, and although the cold air made me feel better, I was glad to have my partner by my side. Several times, he wordlessly grabbed my arm when my knees buckled a little under my weight, and once he even took my hand and guided me back onto the pavement when I weaved out onto an empty street. In an almost feverish fervor, I found my thoughts slipping back to Tomoe. Her hands had been so soft. And her voice…Calling…
A voice calling…
"Kotetsu." Barnaby caught my arm and pulled me to a stop. I glanced back to him with a frown.
Barnaby stared at me in silence, and then looked across to the house on his left. My house. Which I had walked passed. I looked at it in consideration and then to my partner apologetically.
"Sorry…miles away…" I mumbled, rubbing the back of my head.
"You should get some rest. You still haven't recovered from the battle with Jake."
"Yeah…" I agreed. That wasn't it. I knew that wasn't it. It was a headache. A headache. A voice. Voices.
An uneasy look must have passed my face, because Barnaby had moved in. "Kotetsu?" He asked, with concern and I immediately smiled.
"Sorry. Yeah. I'll…I'll go to bed. Just tired. Ur…But will you be ok protecting the city without me?"
"You managed without me." Barnaby reminded, and I stared at him in silence. It was a compliment. Somewhere in there, it was a deep, meaningful compliment. My forced smile lessened a little, and I found something warmer replacing it.
"Yeah. You'll be fine." I said softly, and turning I moved up to the house and let myself in. Barnaby watched me get safely inside, and then turned and went back up the street as I closed the door. My partner was slowly starting to trust me…Like me even. A warmth of gratitude spread through my chest, and then I realized that the warmth was a little too real and too hot, and I dove toward the nearest toilet. Reaching the bowl in time I ducked my head into it and vomited hard, feeling like something was squeezing my heart as I sat, trembling on the bathroom floor. I rocked my forehead against the cold ceramic, and when eventually I had control of my limbs again, I stood and flushed, brushing my teeth.
Moving sluggishly into my bedroom I clumsily began to strip, heat emanating from my body, though I wasn't sure if that was because I was actually burning up, or because my head felt like it was about to explode. Voices whispered against the base of my neck, like a breath of air licking my spine, and suddenly I was very aware of them, very aware of their presence alone in my bedroom.
"You're sick, Kotetsu." I told myself, "You're feverish. You're just hearing things. There is nobody there. There is nobody there. There is nobody there." I could feel my teeth chattering as I spoke the words, dropping onto the bed and huddling into it. Because there was something there. It had been there all day, whispering louder and louder, and now it was around me, like waves of sound. I took in several long, deep gasps of air. I knew what was happening.
I knew where I had felt it all before. But it had been so long ago now, I had buried it for so long…I had thought it was all just a nightmare. No, that was a lie. I had hoped it was a nightmare. In truth, I had spent every day burying it deeper beneath me, trying my hardest to forget, to pretend, to smother it down because God…It scared me.
Having one Next was one thing – my 100 power had been frightening enough when I had been coming to terms with it…But this…
It terrified me. It was a part of me I wanted to cut away and hide from everyone, and so far I had. I had controlled it, pushed it away, drowned it out…I had even forgotten about it.
But being a psychic was not something you just got to forget about.
"No!" I said forcefully into my pillow. "This is not happening. It is not happening!" I forced my eyes closed. I was just tired. I was just feverish. I hadn't recovered from my fight with Jake.
I whispered it like a mantra in my head, and cradling these statements like a blanket, I slipped off into sleep. Tomorrow will be better, I thought. Tomorrow will be better.
I woke suddenly, like someone had jolted me and sat up in bed so fast I once more found myself with my head between my knees gasping for air. I felt like someone had drained me of blood. This was wrong. This was terribly wrong. Terror leapt through me, and I went for phone on the bedside table.
The next thing, I was tumbling from the bed, and the world was spinning, and my phone was out of reach. Darkness plummeted toward me, like hunger itself.
"Help…" I gasped desperately. "Help."
Nobody heard, and unconsciousness engulfed me.