Lebreau picked up on the third ring and greeted, "Jihl, it's good to hear from you. What's up?"
Wrapped up in the heated side of her dual-temperature blanket, Jihl closed her eyes.
"Lebreau, I need a favor," she stated, skipping the occasion for small talk.
"Yeah? Everything alright?" Lebreau asked, a hint of concern revealed upon hearing the tone of Jihl's voice.
"I need you to come early to prepare the food I'd intended for tonight," Jihl confided bluntly. "Something happened at work today and I just need some rest. I don't want to worry Lightning about it."
Lebreau paused a moment before asking, "Are you okay, Jihl?"
"Yeah, I'm okay," Jihl breathed in relief, glad Lebreau wasn't drilling her about it. She honestly didn't have the energy even to answer questions. Her stomach churned and her body felt cold, at least in this moment. In another, she might be throwing off the blanket in a sudden heat stroke. It had happened a few times already.
"May I bring Bethany?" Lebreau asked. "I'm with her now."
Jihl hesitated a moment, wincing, and then said, "She can't breathe a word to Lightning."
"She won't," Lebreau promised and a thought occurred to Jihl.
"Then ask her to bring her herbal medicines please. Does she have anything strong enough to knock me out for a few hours?"
"We'll take a look and be there soon," Lebreau promised. "Take care of yourself, Jihl. Try to get some sleep."
"Thank you, Lebreau," Jihl sighed in immense relief.
"See you soon."
Jihl closed the call through her earpiece and huddled on the bed, silently willing away the pounding migraine and ever-present nausea that hadn't abated since early that morning. She could practically feel her body combating this uncomfortable weakness and it left her feeling utterly drained. She tried to relax into the mattress, then cursed loudly as the warmth of her blanket suddenly became fire. She threw the cover off as fast as possible and her stomach lurched precariously.
Jihl stilled, fighting back the vertigo and the strong urge to vomit again. She kept her eyes tightly shut.
She stayed there, breathing slowly, for some immeasurable amount of time. Eventually, the cold seeped back into her pores and she shivered once more, but didn't grab the blanket again. Instead, she tried to focus on her breathing despite how terribly her pounding head ached. In and out, nice and slowly.
Jihl wished she didn't feel so weak. She couldn't recall another occasion when her body had felt so heavy or this tired before. She needed rest, she knew, and probably water after having thrown up so much. Water might ease her migraine, too, but Jihl wasn't certain she could stomach it without throwing up again.
After laying there restlessly shivering for Gods knew how long, Jihl lifted a heavy arm to her nightstand blindly to grope for the water bottle she had, thinking it might ease her suffering if taken little by little. She did so, sipping it cautiously, the liquid feeling good against her chapped lips and throat. A few minutes passed, and just as Jihl suspected she might be okay, another painful lurch twisted her gut, this one incredibly stronger.
Her heart quickening, she felt that telltale creeping in her sore throat and Jihl scrambled, nearly tripping straight out of bed in her mad dash for the bathroom. She had only just barely collapsed in front of the toilet when the buildup in her throat forced itself out, and for a frustrating fourth time that day, Jihl retched.
Tears sprang to her eyes as she seemed to empty her stomach once more, and then suddenly, Jihl wasn't alone. She could barely make out the words behind the gasp before Bethany rushed to her side and pulled back her hair away from her face. A gentle hand touched her opposite shoulder as her friend fussed and attempted to soothe her.
Jihl didn't really register the words until her queasy stomach tightened and the bile had left her throat.
"Jihl…" she caught the tail end of Bethany saying. The stench of the bile was so strong to her sensitive senses, Jihl didn't trust herself to speak. The taste lingered in her throat and mouth and it was all she could manage not to gag over it.
Bethany must have called in Lebreau as soon as she'd found her, because a small paper cup of water found its way to her lips from her other side. Greedily, Jihl took it and washed out her mouth before spitting the residual back out, trying to clear the taste. The cup was replaced with a second one as Bethany flushed her regurgitated breakfast away. Not for the first time that morning, Jihl regretted that her body required so much food to sate her Pulsian metabolism.
"Go slow," Bethany coached as Lebreau took the empty paper cup from her and she drank from the new one. As she did, she increasingly became aware of her friends' prescenses and discreetly straightened. "You didn't tell us it was this bad, Jihl," Bethany said, a gentle and pitying accusation in her voice. Despite having told her she had no fever, Bethany touched her forehead anyway to check.
"We should call Angela," Lebreau voiced in agreement, almost causing Jihl to choke on the water.
"No," she said firmly, but her voice came out hoarse.
"Jihl, you've never even been sick before," Bethany pointed out in genuine concern and lowered her voice until she was speaking barely above a whisper. "I see you flinching every time we speak. What other symptoms are you hiding?"
Jihl silently cursed her Pulsian senses and her friends' careful detection of them. Thankfully, her mouth had been washed out a little, but her head still pounded, the ache prominent throughout her entire skull. Focusing enough to answer hurt, but Jihl had to control the direction of this conversation.
"Angela is with Lightning," she explained, and before either of them could object, she sharply reminded, "You both promised."
Bethany looked visibly conflicted, but Jihl went on.
"I'll see her soon anyway. Lightning's booking my appointment today," she said in an attempt to allay their concerns. "Now please," she asked in as dismissive a voice as she could manage. "I have a headache and just need rest. Did you bring me anything?"
Though she felt more fatigued than she ever had and simply wanted to collapse, Jihl didn't miss the look Bethany exchanged with Lebreau.
"A headache or a migraine?" she asked in that softer tone. When Jihl didn't immediately answer, she added, "I can help, but I have to know what to treat."
"A migraine," Jihl admitted and felt Bethany squeeze her shoulder.
"Why are you trying to hide this from Lightning?" Lebreau asked, coming around Jihl's other side next to Bethany.
"Treatment first, please. Questions later," Jihl asked and was glad it sounded like an evasion more than a pressing need because she wasn't actually certain she could concentrate enough for a second round of questions.
"That's fair," Lebreau said reasonably, thankfully, but added, "As long as there is a later."
Jihl didn't meet her eyes, she couldn't, really, not with her head throbbing and swimming through layers of muck, but she might not have anyway.
"Let's get you back to bed," Bethany said, and her friends both provided support to get her there. Though Jihl could stand and move herself, she appreciated the help as every movement still felt heavy and weak. It was a small miracle that she had made it to the bathroom at all.
When they had settled Jihl into a sitting position on the bed, leaning her back against the headboard, Bethany asked, "Is there anything else I need to know about to treat, Jihl?"
On the nightstand beside her, Lebreau placed the refilled water cup. Jihl closed her eyes. "No," she mumbled, neglecting to mention the hot flashes or her chills. "I merely need rest."
"I'll be back," Bethany promised, and Jihl felt one of them, probably Bethany, squeeze her hand in reassurance before both of them left the bedroom. Though they spoke loudly enough for Jihl to hear, she didn't pay attention to the conversation and instead tried to coax herself into slumber. It didn't work and Jihl ached in frustration and pain. Lightning would be home in a few hours. She couldn't be in this state when she arrived.
She spent the next few minutes fretting over it and picked up the water from her nightstand to slowly sip it. She still couldn't judge time very well in her present state, but it felt like eons before Bethany's footfalls approached again and she announced herself quietly.
"I'm up," Jihl announced miserably, eyes still closed as the bed shifted with Bethany's weight upon it.
"I've mixed some crushed elderberry root, powdered bricay, and juiced lindzeili with some herbs and extracts," she said. Jihl didn't answer, but she peered one eye open to give Bethany a raised eyebrow. Bethany's deep emerald eyes filled with mirth and she smiled pleasantly. "It's for your migraine," she clarified. "I have to apply it to your temples."
"Okay," Jihl allowed, closing her eyes again.
"Lebreau prepared a broth for you to take the Sleepspell with, and I added some flowers and roots that should help your nausea."
Jihl felt Bethany's gentle fingers at her right temple then, careful not to pressure her pounding head as she applied it.
"Sleepspell?" Jihl asked.
"That's what Angela and I call it," Bethany explained, finishing the first application and moving to her other temple to repeat the process. "Cocoon plants aren't typically meant for our bodies, but we've been cross pollinating plants to make them more potent for us. You just haven't needed it yet."
Bethany pulled back and Jihl was half-amazed to feel a cooling sensation already beginning to take effect from where she had touched her temples. It wasn't unlike the effect Lightning's body exuded, but it penetrated deeper, almost instantaneously reaching the crux of her throbbing pain and stilled it, transforming it into a more comfortable, dull ache. The potion continued to exude that cool feeling at her temples, and Jihl opened her eyes in astonishment at the incredible relief.
"Do you feel any better?" Bethany asked, and Jihl blinked at her, and then glanced at the small bowl in her hand.
"The fuck is that?"
Bethany smiled again, ignoring her vulgarity, and said, "We call it Brisk. I can bottle you some more at home and send it over, but this should last you through tonight at least." She set the bowl down gently on the nightstand. "The effect lasts about an hour, then you can reapply if your migraine persists. Just be careful not to ingest it."
"Thank you for this, Bethany," Jihl said, immensely grateful for the relief. She reached towards her nightstand and picked up the water, taking a little swig in an attempt to cleanse her pallet from the bad taste that still lingered. Her stomach still felt knotted and she was bone-weary, but the absence of her terrible migraine felt incredible. She could deal with a dull headache. "You brought all this with you?"
"I didn't," Bethany corrected, "Not all of it, anyway. I didn't know how bad you felt, but your apartment sent up Henry with some replacement herbs for what I lacked. The next batch I make you will be more potent."
Jihl stared at her first in disbelief, then a little bit of suspicion. She had long suspected Angela and Sombra to have been up to something nefarious concerning their original homeworld in Gran Pulse. They never let on about it, at least not to her, but Bethany's concoction seemed to work a little too well. And with the promise of her next batch being even better, Jihl surmised that whatever the two brainiacs had been doing, Bethany knew about it as well. And if Bethany knew, Lebreau probably did too. Did all her friends know?
Jihl was very tempted to press the point, aware that she would more easily get a guilty answer out of the sweet Pulsian than the geniuses or Lebreau, but she held her tongue. Bethany had been very good to her and helped tremendously already; Jihl knew she would have had a much more difficult time hiding her symptoms without her, so she let it go. At least for now. If she had to know at a later point, she would revisit it, but her burning curiosity was not a need, and to be fair, if the brainiacs had decided that she didn't need to know, then she probably didn't.
"Soup's done," Lebreau announced as she entered the bedroom with a steaming bowl. Jihl's stomach lurched a little at the thought of consuming anything that might trigger another episode throwing up. It must have shown in her expression, too, because Bethany gently reassured.
"It shouldn't aggravate your stomach," she assured kindly. "It won't taste as spectacular as usual, but I've added herbs and spices that should ease your nausea. We need to rehydrate you after you've been sick, anyway."
Lebreau sat upon the bed as well and offered the bowl, which Jihl took, claiming, "I can manage," as she didn't particularly want to be spoon fed.
Bethany's pretty features creased in renewed concern when she asked, "How long has this been going on, Jihl?"
Jihl placed the warm bowl in her lap and grabbed a couple of ice cubes out of the nightstand bucket to cool her soup idly. She trusted Bethany's mastery of plants and herbs well enough, but the recent recollection of vomit was still uncomfortably fresh.
"Just today," she said again to a further crease of Bethany's brow and Lebreau's skeptical eyebrow. "You two think I could conceal this from Lightning if it had been going on longer?" she pointed out. "I'm going to have to sanitize the entire bathroom so she doesn't smell it. The kitchen, too. Probably the entire house."
Jihl stirred her soup idly, noticing the partially melted ice cubes, and assumed the soup was safe to drink. Cautiously, she spooned herself a little and brought the liquid to her lips.
Though probably not Lebrau's absolute best creation, as Bethany had warned, the soup tasted warm and spice-laden, and it helped eradicate the residual taste in her mouth. She carefully took another sip.
"When did it start? Do you know what triggered it?" Lebreau asked, always on point when she spoke or asked questions. She was always on point when she chose not to as well. It wasn't as obvious an ability as Jihl's considerable healing, but it was more notable than a common ease of speech.
"I don't know when it started, sometime at work," Jihl said, spooning herself another sip of soup when the first didn't immediately threaten to come back up. She savored it for a moment and then confessed. "I don't know what triggered it, either."
"But you suspect something," Lebreau pointed out, causing Jihl to wonder if she had somehow revealed that or if Lebreau merely guessed. She didn't know how to answer, either, and proceeded to stare at her soup for too long. "Jihl?" Lebreau prodded. "It's about Lightning, isn't it?"
Jihl closed her eyes and leaned back against the headboard. "I don't want to talk about it," she said, the words as much a confession as any. She didn't want to, either. It was nonsensical, but voicing her fears felt like she gave them power. She already felt awful for merely having had the passing notions privately.
"Jihl," Lebreau coaxed, more gentle this time. "We've never even seen you ill before. We're worried about you. Maybe there's something we can try that you haven't thought of." Warm fingers touched the back of her limp hand and took it. Jihl wasn't particularly touchy-feely with anyone but Lightning, so the contact felt strange, especially coming from someone warm. She had correctly guessed that Bethany had taken her hand, but it was Lebreau who continued speaking.
"We want to help," Lebreau offered kindly, delicately. "And we're…" she hesitated for the briefest moment, "Aware. That Lightning isn't well enough to know everything. If you prefer, I'll leave the room and you can just tell Bethany. She's not Angela, but someone with some medical experience needs to hear, Jihl."
Jihl ached and it had nothing to do with her twisted gut this time. She opened her eyes and stared accusingly at Lebreau.
"You're silver tongued, Lebreau," she shamed, and Lebreau smiled faintly, sadly. Bethany squeezed her hand, offering her support. It still felt strange to Jihl. "But I'd rather not speculate about it without the brainiacs here. If my condition persists through tomorrow, I'll take it to Angela immediately. You have my word. But until then, I do not wish you to be preoccupied with it during our celebration tonight," she paused, and then added. "You can both be there when I tell Angela. I'd actually love it if you distracted Lightning during that, Lebreau."
Bethany's eyes softened and Jihl returned to her soup. After suffering no ill effects thus far, she put the spoon aside and lifted the bowl to sip it directly, letting Bethany's hand fall away. Lebreau gave her a quizzical look, but it wasn't disapproving.
"How is Lightning fairing, Jihl?" Bethany asked sweetly, letting her off the hook perhaps more easily than Lebreau would have alone.
Having drained half the bowl, Jihl lowered and provided an honest answer since she hadn't gone into detail earlier.
"She's managing. Angela helps a great deal and I try to show her her worth, but she still lives as if she's responsible for what happened to our mothers," Jihl frowned at her soup bowl. "She can't separate from it as easily when she's physically like them. Her current team doesn't help, either. After my promotion, I intend to find her a new one."
"Your promotion?" Lebreau picked out, quirking an eyebrow. "Moving up the ranks again, Jihl?"
"Three positions this time," Jihl informed, straightening against the headboard. "Dysley came in himself to give me the new rank: Fleet Admiral of PSICOM. I'll be able to command Lightning's assignments and teams."
"Wow, congratulations, Jihl. That's amazing! Were you going to announce it tonight?" Bethany asked, her face filling with happiness for her.
"I hoped to," Jihl admitted, and Lebreau seemed lost in thought after the comment.
"Well, finish up your soup," Bethany encouraged. "The Sleepspell will take a little bit longer before it hits you. We'll take care of the party prep, Jihl."
"Thank you for helping," Jihl told the both of them. "It might have been a lost cause without you. I appreciate it."
"We're happy to," Bethany assured, and Lebreau seemed to rouse out of her musings and nodded as well.
"I'll fetch you another serving," she said, and waited for Jihl to drain the rest of her bowl before taking the dish from her. Though she didn't feel sleepy yet, the soothing effects on her twisted gut were apparent and Jihl was grateful for them. "Rest up, Jihl."
"And if you need anything, let us know," Bethany insisted as she stood to leave the room with Lebreau.
Jihl thanked them again and activated the Smart Wall in front of her bed.
"PC, display PSICOM Alpha Team One recordings," she verbally ordered, pulling out a wireless keyboard and mouse from the nightstand drawer to select all of the videos from their various cams. At once, the wall changed and lit up with the day's live action videos from Lightning's team.
Lebreau came back in to deliver her second bowl of soup while Jihl settled back against some pillows and watched her girlfriend go to town that day.