Saturday, January 7, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 28: Senses

Previous Chapter: Grimoire
Kay resisted the urge to try to shake Nadia awake; there was no sense in risking further neck or back injuries. To her surprise, though, Nadia's eyes fluttered open a few seconds later.
"Nadia, you okay? I think you fell," Kay said.
Nadia groaned and reached a hand up to her face. "Huh?"
"I mean, I didn't see it, but I don't know what else it could've been," Kay said hesitantly. "Are you feeling okay?"

Blinking heavily, Nadia reached her arm back down and started to sit upright, but Kay shook her head. "Don't try to move. The medics are coming down," Kay said. "Does your head hurt?"
"Sure does. Right arm hurts worse, though. Why did I fall, anyway?"
Kay sighed and turned at the sound of footsteps at the top of the stairs. "Watch your step. I have no idea what it is that made her fall," she called.
"I brought Rika and Wojtec," Holly said as she came into view on the landing. "Leo's on his way with a wheelchair in the cargo elevator."
Kay moved out of the way as Wojtec and a young, red-haired woman bounded down the stairs and began to attend to Nadia. Though Nadia's speech seemed unimpaired, she was visibly in pain, and kept reaching for her head.
A few minutes later, a man came out of a side hallway with a wheelchair, and Wojtec carefully helped Nadia into it. She winced as she sat down, but nodded to Kay as they began to wheel her away. "I'm fine, I promise," she said, her voice shaking. "It's really just my arm that I landed on."
"I'm not seeing any long-term injuries, but make sure Gardner gets a report, just in case," Wojtec said to Holly.
Holly nodded and turned to leave, only hesitating for a moment to send Nadia a sympathetic glance. "Let us know if you need anything, Nadia," Kay said as she turned to head up the stairs. "We'll check on you in a bit, okay?"
"Thanks." Nadia waved half-heartedly with her good arm as they disappeared back down the hallway.
Holly called Gardner and updated her in hushed tones, and when she got off the phone, she waved Kay up the stairs with a heavy sigh. "Gardner thinks Nadia fainted from exhaustion. It's happened before, apparently," she said. "She said to leave her alone and wait for the medics to either bring her back to her room or contact you for something."
Kay nodded, but the urge to argue welled up inside her for a moment. Surely it couldn't hurt to visit Nadia, but considering the state the base was in, disobeying Gardner was probably a bad idea. "Gotcha. That makes sense."
"If you want, I'll go get food and bring it to you so you can be on-call in case they need you to grab something from her room."
Holly's eyes were narrowed - almost nervous, Kay thought as she smiled in response. "I'd appreciate that. Something about this makes me a little worried, so I'd like to be available for anything she needs," Kay murmured.
"It's definitely unsettling." Holly turned at the top of the stairs, but hesitated for a moment. "Any food preferences?"
"Nah. It's Friday, right? So the menu's all good. Thanks."
Holly left without another word, and as Kay went back to her room, she started to wonder just how bad things still were between Nadia and Holly. She hadn't seen the two of them speak more than a few words to each other in days.
Then there was the matter of Tierra, who was still in quarantine. Kay suppressed a shudder as she unlocked her room. Their unofficial little team was falling apart - and though she thought things shouldn't get much worse, she realized she wouldn't be too surprised if they did.
Holly brought dinner to Kay and left almost immediately; her exhaustion was visible in her eyes and the tight lines of her lips. After an hour of sitting around, Kay texted Wojtec and asked for an update on Nadia's condition. There was a knock at her door just a few seconds later.
She yanked the door open and was greeted by the sight of Wojtec pushing Nadia in a wheelchair. "She's fine," Wojtec said as Kay opened her mouth. "There's no reason for her to stay in the medical ward overnight. Make sure she rests, though."
"She's not my mom, you know," Nadia mumbled. She had changed into a hospital gown, but had a cardigan wrapped around her shoulders. Her right arm rested in a white sling, and just above her gown's neckline, pale bruises lined her collarbone.
Kay couldn't help but cringe. Nadia was far from frail, but the sight of her in such a state was somehow alarming. "When you say there's no reason for her to stay overnight..."
"She just needs rest, I promise. Her body has already healed the worst of the concussion," Wojtec said as he wheeled Nadia inside. "Pull down the covers, will ya?"
Kay nodded and rushed to Nadia's bed. Nadia rolled her eyes and swept her short hair behind her ear with her good hand. "Wojtec, I'm sure I can manage that much myself--"
"It's fine! It's not like I'm doing anything anyway," Kay said as she pulled the covers back. "Better safe than sorry, right?"
Nadia sighed and stared off at the bookshelf above Kay's head. "Thanks," she mumbled as she scooted to the edge of her wheelchair's seat.
Kay offered her a hand, and with a little help from Wojtec, Nadia was able to climb into bed. To Kay's untrained eyes, Nadia's legs seemed fine; it was her torso and shoulders that seemed to be in considerable pain.
It was also possible that Wojtec and the others had other reasons for keeping her out of the medical ward, though, Kay thought as she glanced at the bruises on Nadia's collarbone again.
Nadia settled in against her pillows for a moment before grunting in pain. "Can I get another pillow or something? I think I'll want to sit up and read for a bit."
"Sure," Kay said, grabbing a spare pillow from her own bed.
"You don't have to give me one of yours," Nadia mumbled. "Wojtec can go get one from--"
"Wojtec has a briefing to get to, so quit being stubborn and let her help," Wojtec said, an uneasy half-smile flickering across his face. "Sorry about forgetting your phone. I'll bring it in an hour or so, okay?"
Nadia sighed and leaned forward slightly as Kay put the pillow behind her back. "Thanks. Can you hand me the Italian phrasebook I put on the bookshelf?"
Kay reached up and pulled a thin book from the sparsely-populated bookshelf. "Do you need anything else? Do you want me to go get your phone?"
"I'm good for now, especially since I won't need it for anything, anyway. And don't hover over me, for real."
Kay handed her the book, shrugged, and walked over to her desk. "If you say so," she said.
Nadia smiled and turned her attention to her book. Kay took out her textbooks and began studying, hoping to get caught up after several hectic days. Her mind raced with thoughts of Xavier, Nina, and Tierra - and the blood that had been shed in front of her just a few hours prior - but she tried to push the memories aside and focus. With her limited knowledge of magic, it was only a matter of time before the fighting escalated to a point where she could no longer survive.
And if even Nadia was reaching her limits, there was a good chance that Kay wouldn't be able to walk away unharmed from her next firefight.
An hour later, she looked up to see Nadia had laid down beneath her covers, her Italian book abandoned on the nightstand. Kay glanced at her phone; it was barely eight o'clock, and there was no way Nadia would be going to sleep right away.
"You look bored. Can I get you anything?" Kay asked after a moment.
Nadia frowned and rolled over halfway, wincing as she put weight on her right hip. "This is kinda an annoying request, but..." She hesitated for a moment before pointing to the bookshelf above her bed. "Is Requiem Garden up there? The big gray book?"
Kay squinted for a moment before crossing the room and grabbing a thick, heavy volume. "This one?"
"Yeah. Between my back being bruised and my whole right arm being a mess, I can't get in a comfortable position to read," she murmured, her brow furrowing. "I have less than two chapters left, and I had to end on a cliffhanger the other day. Could you maybe at least read past that cliffhanger for me?"
Kay nodded as she sat down on the edge of the bed. "Not an annoying request at all."
"But it'll spoil the ending for you, so if you don't want to..."
"You didn't figure out by now that I don't read much?"
Nadia smiled, and her eyes shone despite the fatigue on her face. "Yeah, you never read at all growing up. I guess that hasn't changed, huh?
Kay smiled back. "Too busy sneaking around getting into trouble. Is this bookmark where you were at?"
"Yeah," Nadia said, taking the purple ribbon off of the page with bruised fingers. "Maybe start on the left-hand page for me?"
Kay began to read aloud, and for nearly twenty minutes, Nadia listened with wide eyes and pursed lips. It was almost funny how closely she was paying attention, Kay thought as she glanced up at Nadia toward the end of last chapter.
As the last few characters settled into their happy ending, Nadia carefully sat up and reached for the bottle of water on her nightstand. "You can stop. I suspected the author might try to end it this way," she said, a smirk playing over her lips. "What a cop-out."
Kay laughed, and she relaxed as she realized she had barely even smiled, let alone laughed, in days. "I guess I agree it's a cop-out, but I didn't want to say anything," she said sheepishly.
"Bah. Speak your mind. I've fought so many people over the endings of books; I'm kinda used to it by now."
"For a while, it was quiet around all of Maywitch's bases and outposts, so we had a pretty good amount of time to read," Nadia murmured, waving her good hand at the bookshelf again. "You should've seen the collection we'd built up at the old base. Even this base has bookshelves above every bed for a reason."
Her smile faded, and Kay nodded sympathetically. "I should ask you for recommendations sometime," Kay said as she shifted closer to the top of the bed, leaned toward the bookshelf, and began to push the book back into place.
She froze as she felt Nadia's gaze on her face. When she looked down, she realized she and Nadia were very, very close to each other - close enough that the tiny lines of amber in Nadia's eyes were visible, even in the dim light.
That was stupid, she thought. She hadn't meant to lean so far. How did they end up so close?
Then she felt a tiny tickle of Nadia's breath on her lips - or did she just imagine that?
The book was almost high enough to slide into place on the shelf, but she couldn't decide whether to try to move from her seat on the bed, or simply reach a little higher and lean a little closer. Nadia didn't lean back to move away, despite the reddish haze that had appeared on her cheeks.
A sharp rap at the door made her jump, and she nearly dropped the book on Nadia's head. "Yes?" Nadia snapped, closing her eyes with a grimace.
"Gardner says to check your phone," Holly's voice said.
"Wojtec was supposed to bring it from the infirmary a half-hour ago!" Nadia replied.
There was a soft grunt of annoyance, and then silence. Holly must have left, Kay thought as she stood and slid the book back onto the shelf. "I can go get it, if needed," she said softly.
"No, Wojtec is probably off God-knows-where with my phone in his pocket while dealing with some emergency. He'll come by as soon as Holly or someone reminds him. If it was actually urgent, Gardner would've paged me by now," Nadia said, shaking her head. Her expression had returned to its usual placid, unreadable state. "At any rate, thanks for that. I should probably go to sleep."
"You sure? I can get you whatever you need. If you want, maybe they'll let you go to the rec room and watch TV for a bit, at least?"
"And watch public-access channels and game shows like I'm in a geriatric ward? No thanks."
Kay grinned, partly in reaction to the joke, and partly thanks to her residual nervousness. Her heart still felt aflutter - less like a pounding muscle, and more like a quivering mass of jelly. "I might step out, but I'll come back in twenty minutes, okay?" she said.
"Don't hover over me. I'm fine, for real," Nadia said as she settled in under her blankets. "Just don't flip on the lights when you come back in, okay?"
Kay nodded. "I'm a better roommate than that, I promise."
Nadia didn't even smile in response to the comment, as as Kay stepped into the hall, she felt her heart rate increase again.
Was that whole encounter weird? It had ended up a little weird, hadn't it?
Just a little, she told herself as she headed down the hall. It was fine. She was reading too much into it.
When Nadia finally woke up hours later, she was certain she hadn't moved an inch. There was a terrifying, disorienting feeling of fear in her bones, though - as if she had gone to sleep one place and awoken somewhere else.
Something was wrong; something had changed. Maybe it was just the lingering aftereffects of the fall, she tried to tell herself as she looked around the room for Kay.
When Kay was nowhere to be found, though, Nadia bolted upright, nearly falling out of bed as she tried to swing her legs onto the floor. As she stumbled to her feet with the sheets wrapped around her legs, the bedroom door opened with a sharp click.
She thrust out one arm, ready to cast a shield spell, but lowered it slightly as Kay's face appeared in the backlit doorway. "Nadia?" Kay whispered, her voice seeming distant in the dark expanse of the room.
Nadia blinked, struggling to determine for certain whether or not she was actually awake. She wasn't dreaming - was she?
"Nadia, you okay?" Kay didn't move, and Nadia wished she would. The stillness was somehow terrifying.
"I'm fine." The words left Nadia's mouth sounding like an echo of themselves.
"Okay. Hey, I plugged your phone in over here. Do you want it?"
Nadia nodded and stepped toward the desk, but Kay waved a hand at her. "Lay back down," she said, grabbing the phone and handing it to Nadia. "I put it on silent. We're getting new numbers first thing tomorrow morning, though, so maybe leave it on so they can reach you if needed?"
"Thanks," Nadia murmured as she laid down again. "I'm gonna try to sleep the rest of the night. Night."
As Kay ducked into the bathroom, shower supplies in hand, Nadia glanced at the clock on the wall. She had slept for nearly three hours.
She thought for a long moment before leaving her phone on silent as she set it on her nightstand. She could rest for the night; if it was truly urgent, they could page her. It wasn't like Maywitch was going to trust her with any assignments, anyway, when everything was so fraught with fear and mistrust.
Then she saw the missed voicemail notification from an unknown number. She played back the voicemail, and she suddenly realized why she had woken up in fear.
Her sister had been hard at work, it seemed.  

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