can't see the sun for the clouds

pg-13 | no warnings apply

Akane turned off the car, but made no move to get out. Phi was fingering her brooch as she looked out the window.

"I still don't feel right doing this, Akane."

"It's necessary," was her only reply.

Phi was tired of hearing that things were 'necessary'.

They exited the car in silence, heading towards the staff elevators. It had been ridiculously easy for Ennea to whip up some fake IDs. With the badges pinned to the pockets of their white jackets, nobody batted an eye as the two of them made their way past guards, as they slid the phony credentials through card readers, as they entered the ICU through the Personnel Only doors.

It made her think about how easy it would be for someone to get to Diana at work. It made her anxious.

Timing was critical. Helen's sister was at work, but would be back in about five hours. They had to not only pull this off in the allotted time, but be ready when the sister returned.

None of the nurses or doctors or orderlies said anything as Akane and Phi approached Room 612. Akane placed a small proximity detector near the top of the doorjamb, so they'd have advance notice if someone was about to come in.

The victims of Reverie Syndrome never looked particularly sick. Phi had seen Helen's chart, so she knew that under the blanket, even with physical therapy, her muscles were weakened, atrophied. She knew Helen was being treated for a bedsore on her hip. But if someone was just passing by, they'd probably think she was just asleep.

"Are you sure the two of us are going to be enough?"

When Akane had first tried to revive Maria, she had Aoi assisting her. As much as Carlos wanted to help, Akane said if there was someone there with a close connection to her, that would actually hinder the process. But the Kurashikis weren't able to rouse her, so Akane had called in Junpei to help resonate. Ultimately, it wasn't until they had Sigma and Diana in the room as well that Maria finally opened her eyes.

"Maria was in her state for a lot longer than Helen's been."

It wasn't exactly a 'yes'.

Phi had only helped do this once before. It had taken almost three hours and been incredibly draining. And that had been with Akane, Diana, and Sigma, and most importantly, with the permission of the patient's family. Phi carefully attached the tiny blue box Nona had given her to the back of the vitals monitor. Nothing changed on the screen, but Nona had assured her it would transmit normal vitals back to the nurse's station, regardless of what happened with the actual patient.

She took Helen's left hand as Akane took the right.

She closed her eyes and envisioned a brick wall surrounding her. Slowly, shafts of pale blue light began to knock the bricks out, one by one, until the wall had crumbled at her feet and there was nothing left but the light. She let herself reach out into the morphogenetic field - a bright, spindly, cyan protrusion searching, seeking, until it found Akane.

Akane's mind always appeared in the field as blood red, and Phi tried not to read too much into that.

Cyan light swirled around red, intermingling but still staying separated.

That was the easy part.

Together, they searched for Helen. If she were healthy, it would have been simple. From what Phi understood, every esper tended to experience the morphogenetic field differently. Akane saw things as a giant chessboard. (No surprise there.) Aoi said it was like being underwater with electric fish. For Phi, it was always light the color of the sky, with people's minds represented by gangly, distorted, illuminated beings, like aliens in some old sci-fi films.

Diana was green with flecks of gold. Sigma was dark blue. Carlos was yellow, Junpei purple, and Aoi silvery-white.

Her brother was always black.

But the victims of Reverie Syndrome would hop around in the field. Just when you thought they were right there, right in front of you, they would flicker out and it was like they were miles away. Their forms were never solid; it was like receiving a poor signal that was contaminated with static. And for reasons Phi would never understand, if you had someone with a strong connection to the victim trying to contact them, it was like the north poles of two magnets coming into contact. It would just send the patient farther away.

Helen - when they finally found her - was a bland tan shade, flitting in and out of phase.

The proximity alarm chose that moment to go off, sending a small dinging sound into their earpieces.

Phi completely extracted herself, and with trembling, sweaty hands, grabbed Helen's chart. Akane remained partially entangled; she was better able to feign normalcy while still in the field.

The nurse who entered barely glanced at them. "Y'all the new physical therapists?"

"No," Phi said, without thinking. "Just here for a consult."

Thankfully, the nurse did not ask who exactly asked for the consult, or what exactly they were consulting on. She seemed to just be popping in to make sure Helen wasn't dead. Once that was established, she left. Phi got the impression the medical staff here weren't terribly invested in their patients.

She dropped the chart on the bed and took Helen's hand again, focusing on Akane's blood red light to find her way back. Akane had ensnared - for lack of a better word - Helen's mind. Phi could see crimson tentacles wrapped around the tan light. The light faded in and out and thrashed against Akane. She stretched out her own mind, cyan strands grabbing on to whatever they could.

Maria had said that when she felt the other espers grabbing onto her in the field, it felt like she was drowning. It felt like she had been floating in the ocean, tossed around by waves, and suddenly there were heavy weights on her ankles, pulling her down. She had fought so hard because she thought she was about to die, and from what Akane had told her, there had been victims of the syndrome who had died during rescue attempts. Their hearts couldn't handle the strain of the stress and had given up.

But Akane said it was Phi's least favorite word - necessary. The fear allowed the person's mind to collect in one place, so it could be retrieved.

Akane tightened her hold on Helen, the tan light becoming brighter, phasing into an orange shade. Any time a tendril escaped from Akane's grasp, Phi tried to capture it. Eventually, Helen's mind - now a vivid tangerine - seemed to relax. Phi began rebuilding the brick wall, this time around all three of them. There was a surge from Helen and Akane did something to corral her. Phi wondered what it looked like to Helen, to Akane. Was Akane envisioning it as pawns or rooks surrounding her own piece, presumably the queen? Did Helen think she was being put in a cage?

With the final brick in place, the sky blue light of the field was gone, the only illumination coming from the three of them. Phi hesitantly eased out of the field, holding on as best she could to Helen.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Helen beginning to stir. It had felt like only minutes had passed, but the clock said it was almost 5 pm, almost time for Helen's sister to arrive.

Helen blinked and wheezed, as if she had been deprived of air. She tried to sit up in the bed, but Akane stopped her.

"Your muscles are weak. You must rest."

"Was ... was that you?" she rasped.

"Yes. My name is Akane. This is Phi. I apologize for the distress we caused you, but it was necessary."

Phi closed her eyes at the sound of that fucking word.


If the proximity alarm had gone off, Phi hadn't heard it. The woman who had just entered had long brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail, horn-rimmed glasses, and based on what she was wearing, had probably just come from a shift as a waitress at a diner.

She had to be Cassandra, Helen's sister.

"Oh, Lord, you're awake!"

Cassandra dropped her purse on the floor and eagerly embraced her sister. Phi tamped down on a twinge of jealousy. They were fraternal twins, just like her and Delta, although obviously with a much better relationship.

"Are you all her new doctors? What did you do? How did you do this?" Cassandra threw her arms around Phi and squeezed her so tightly she thought her ribs might pop.

"We're actually not doctors," Akane said.

Cassandra released Phi, and even though Phi knew exactly what was coming, she flinched. Akane pulled out a gun and pointed it squarely at Helen's head, her finger on the trigger.

In an instant, Akane's arm was flung up and away, the gun skittering out of her hand and hitting the wall. Phi grabbed Cassandra as she began to move towards Akane, holding her back as best as she could, hoping Akane was right and Cassandra was too inexperienced, not strong enough to be able to use her skill again on someone so quickly after using it once.

"I'm sorry about that, I really am," Phi told her. "Akane needed to be sure."

"Sure of fucking what?"

"That you're a mind hacker," Akane said, calmly. "Your sister can SHIFT, but you've developed a different skill. You can read people's minds, and under the correct motivation, you can control them, just for a moment."

"What ... what they talkin' bout, Cass?" Helen's head listed from side to side.

"Y'all need to get the hell out of my sister's room," Cassandra ordered. "Like, right fucking now."

Akane kept going as if she hadn't been interrupted. "I'm here to offer you an opportunity. You can work with fellow espers to hone your skill and even use it to benefit mankind, instead of just using it to hack the minds of your opponents while playing poker on the weekends at the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino. That's how you're paying for this hospital room, isn't it? You learn what cards the other players have, so you always know when's the best time to raise or the best time to fold. You've even hacked them a few times to get them to fold superior hands to win a pot."

"I ... I don't know what y'all talking about." Cassandra's already pale skin had turned white as a sheet. "Get out or I'm callin' security."

"Your sister isn't cured. Unless she's taught how to manage her access to the field, she'll slip back in again. The process can take as long as two months. But if you're not interested in saving her life, we can leave right now."

Akane turned to head out the door, leaving Phi stunned. This had not been part of the plan. Phi snarled at her.

"No. We do not hold people's loved ones hostage or use them as leverage." Turning to Cassandra, she said, "We will cure your sister, whether you want to join us or not. I don't need her to do it. My family and I can help her."

Akane cast her gaze down, as if in shame.

Which was completely, utterly, entirely out of character.

"Okay, look, Akane, you said?" Some of the color had returned to Cassandra's face, but she was trembling. "I'm ... I'm willin' to talk. If you really can help my sister ... we can talk. I really can't have y'all messin' up my casino nights. I don't make shit at the diner, and my sister needs this care."

Phi muttered something about having to use the bathroom and left. Once in the hall, she leaned her back against the wall and slid down until her elbows hit her knees, burying her head in her hands. She heard people walking by, but not one of them asked her if she was okay.

She got the feeling this was not a very good hospital.

When Akane finally exited, Phi didn't speak; she stood on legs that ached from the awkward position and began to retrace their steps back to the car. It wasn't until they were in the parking garage that she spun around and let Akane have it.

"You know damn well I have no problem playing good cop/bad cop when it comes to the kind of pathetic scum we see doing this job, but don't you dare ever rope me into doing it to an innocent. And if we are going to do that routine, you fucking tell me first! Don't fucking play me like everyone else. You threatened to stop treatment on Helen because you knew I'd balk, and that exchange would increase the likelihood of Cassandra trusting us."

"It was -"

"I fucking swear, Akane, you use that word on me one more goddamned time, I will punch you in the face."

She yanked on the handle of the car door before she remembered that Akane had the keys. Rather than unlock it, Akane stood by the driver's side and rested her elbows on the roof.

"We need a mind hacker on our side. One we can trust. I think when Helen is recovered, both of them will be willing to work for us. You don't like it, but we do what we must, to save mankind."

Akane finally hit the button, a beep letting Phi know that she could get inside. As she sat in the passenger's seat, she kept her body pointed away from Akane, her knees pressed against the door, her head against the cool glass of the window.

"Phi, I know you're unhappy."

"Wow, how'd you pick up on that?"

"When you get back to California, I want you to go to your parents. I want you to press your hand against Diana's belly and feel your baby brother or sister kick. I want you to look at the smile on your mother's face and the proud expression on your father's."

"Do not use my family to try to manipulate me."

"You look at that and tell me that what we're doing isn't -"

"Fuck you and that fucking word."

She started the car, and the two of them rode back to headquarters in silence.