"Hey Rick, who's the new girl? Spider chick?" The moment Kat had spoken, you'd sensed something was off. She was fidgeting as she sat on the bench, carefully looking at you and squirming slightly. The bigger sign was that she was trying to hide it.
You glanced back at the Arachnae that had not spoken a word in the past two hours. By now you figured she just had to enjoy the silence, or didn't like being in public. Either way, she didn't talk. At all. It felt awkward. "Hey, this is Raven, turns out she was domestic rather than feral. Raven? This is Katherine, one of my former students and one of my current travel companion."
"Eh, hiya, welcome to the team," Kat replied with a slightly forced grin, turning to you. The young woman made an expression before she reached into her pocket, quickly tossing something your way.
Before you could react, you saw the item snatched midair as Raven had stepped forward between you and Kat. The arachnid pokegirl's movement had been fast enough you'd felt the breeze next to you. From her outstretched chitin-covered hand you saw a dribble of fluid. "Raven?"
The pokegirl looked at the fluid, leaning down and smelling it. It was only then that her shoulders relaxed. "I'm so terribly sorry, Master." She turned towards you. "It was a flask with some juice. I will accept any punishment you deem necessary."
"...I don't think any is needed," you muttered, glancing at the worried-looking Kat. "Anyway... sorry about that."
"I don't mind it," Kat shook her head. "Should've given the heads up. Anyway... think we could, you know, talk in private for a while?"
"Sure." Your hand had been moving towards your hip but you stopped yourself. "Raven, Monica, would you like to be recalled?"
"I would not mind, Master," Raven said.
"No ball," Monica pouted as she shook her head enthusiastically.
You glanced at Kat; the young woman sighed. "I guess I don't mind Monica, she's too adorable." She waited until Raven had vanished before relaxing a little, gesturing at you to sit. "Tomas' gone silent."
Well, points where they were due, she knew how to open with a punch. "You're going to need to add more details to that statement."
"After the whole... thing, with, you know," she grimaced, making a face and sighing. "He looked seriously hurt. He just didn't come back to the centre when we got back. He dropped a message about 'going out' and hasn't shown up yet."
"Wait," you frowned. "How did you know he didn't return to the centre?"
"We, erm." A heartbeat of hesitation.
"I don't want to know," you shook your head, already guessing something had gone down between the two, again. A dull ache was building in the front of your head. "Did he say anything about... where he might be going to? Or what he might be doing?"
"No, not really, only 'Going out'," she nervously fidgeted. "I've been trying to contact him, but he hasn't even read my messages."
"Wait, it has a-" You stopped yourself, rubbing the bridge of your nose. "Ok, let's take a breath here, he's Tomas, he's not exactly the most illogical one in the group. I think this is seriously not something to worry over."
Kat snorted and crossed her arms. Her gaze turned sideways. "I'm nervous. What if he-"
"Do you want to hear my personal views, or do you want to hear me reassure you?" You interrupted in a snap.
Kat recoiled slightly, her auburn hair following the motion a second later, frowning. "Wow, Rick, you're being blunt today. What got up your keister?"
"Look, let's talk Tomas," you grumbled, closing your eyes and trying to ignore the throb inside your head. "Tell me what happened."
"I mean... We walked together, he spent the whole time brooding and reading his dex, we agreed to meet up and then he didn't show up," she said, hugging herself and shrugging her shoulders slightly. "The fact that he hasn't answered anything at all..."
"...could mean he's just trying to spend some time on his own," you mumbled.
"Think he might have taken a mission? I hope not," she muttered. "He only has Freya now, he'd been considering taking a new girl but that bitch..."
"Kept him drained, tired, and unable to consider it." You wanted to groan, another issue, another problem for you to fix.
"Please tell me you've shoved something spiky up her-"
"I think this has nothing to do with the current subject," you spoke rather tersely. "Suffice to say I don't plan to approach this like it's some sort of romantic relationship. I can't have that."
"Your nurse clearly didn't think that." At Kat's words you flinched, which caused the young woman to frown. "Troubles in paradise?"
"Let's keep this conversation about Tomas. Ok?" You said, glancing at the side. "If you're this worried about it, I'll ask Monica to see if she catches any scents, if not that then check the notice boards to see if there's some mission or request someone with an elf might be able to do, and if not that, then maybe he's just ignoring everyone."
"And worst comes to worst?"
"Then we don't have much choice but to move on," you almost barked, a bite in your words that made you instantly regret it. It made the young woman flinch and lower her gaze, and you couldn't help but feel that had been a step too far. For fucks sake. You had to remind yourself, she was in this too, she... You deflated. You were supposed to be in control here. "Sorry. Look, we'll find him."
She nodded, sullenly. "Thanks, Rick," she muttered, hands clenching one another. "I just... didn't know who else to turn to."
A throb between your eyebrows- you sighed deeply. Ignore it, push it away, you looked at her, this was part of being an adult, too. "I'm sure you're just worried, Tomas has a good head on his shoulders. He'll show up." A slight nod she reciprocated. "Send me a message if you got something and I'll do the same."
"Well, I'll put our expert tracker to the case." You glanced at Monica, the feline woman had been looking up into the sky.
You realized there were several things flying way up above, drawing lazy circles in the sky. More pokegirls? Actual birds? You couldn't tell.
"Monica?" The feline's attention turned down towards you with a twitch of her ear. "Let's go."
You gave the young woman a slight nod, moving to consider how you should approach this. It felt like it was little more than concern, and... a dreadfully large part of you did not want to meet Tomas. You didn't want to do it, you didn't want to be the one to go around looking for the young man and find out all of this was an overblown moment of worry. The last thing you needed was to get yourself face to face with him when he was still sore and hurting.
Maybe... should you just pretend to look? Take a few spins, tell Kat nothing's come up, and then just go lay down to get a rest out of this growing headache? A shake of your head the moment afterwards. No sense in not trying, Tomas was a part of the group and you'd already agreed to do it.
"Monica, track Tomas," you told the feline.
"Tomas?" Monica looked confused. "Tomas no food. Track Tomas?"
"No food, just track," you said.
"Just? New Word?"
"Later." You held back from glowering in frustration. "Track," you repeated. "No food."
A nod as she sniffed at the air. "No Tomas here."
Well, she wasn't a bloodhound, you gestured for her to follow as you headed towards the building you'd been staying at.
The throbbing was getting annoying; you pressed your fingers against your temples as you tried to organize things inside your head. The group would get back on the road whenever it was ready, probably tomorrow. You knew Mr. Gabriel had nothing that'd hold anyone back, so the only two variables were the younger tamers.
Your feet carried you on automatic, and you pulled out the dex to check the notice boards, maybe there was something among the requests, but... No dice, none of them were things you'd consider easy or safe if you had only Freya in your team. The fact that Cherry Town had some upped security seemed to suggest that the requests weren't as low a threat.
It only reinforced that the young man had opted to just cut communications.
Was it a permanent cut? Had he opted to just go on his own? You were pretty sure that would make for a mess; Kat looked half desperate to chase him down out of sheer concern. There might 'not be anything between them', as Kat had said only a week ago, but it was clear she cared about the young man in some way. Tomas leaving could leave her in a tough spot between going with him and staying with her grandfather.
Monica stopped her steps and turned her head. "Yes Tomas."
The words snapped you, and you turned towards Monica as she kept sniffing the air down to the right. There was a soft breeze blowing from there. She moved in the direction of the scent and you followed. This place wasn't too far from the southern medical center, though the streets were certainly unfamiliar.
The part of town appeared to be leading slightly northwards, towards... the hive? You couldn't be bothered to remember the exact layout right now, but the streets were narrower and what little volume of movement was going about was reduced. It felt like you were entering a quieter part of this small town. Maybe you'd do well to remember for when you'd wanted to have some time for yourself.
Now there was something to snort loudly at.
Time for yourself.
Monica's meandering steps and frequent pauses to sniff took you further and further towards the edge of town, until the buildings were slowly dispersing and turning into fields. You stopped the instant you'd taken a look further out and towards the fields. You'd spotted Tomas.
The young man stood with two girls: one was Freya, but the other you'd not met before.
You glanced at the new pokegirl as she and Tomas talked; your eyes caught the slight shared smiles, the clearly flirtatious touch as she reached out and caressed his arm. The young man was smiling more than you'd seen him since reaching this world, relaxed, laughing as he nervously scratched the back of his head.
The sight made you feel irked for some reason, the pressure behind your eyes got worse. At least that was one less thing to worry over. "Let's go."
"Tomas track," Monica pointed at the young tamer as he'd been chatting up a storm. "Monica good?"
"Monica good, let's go. Follow." You pressured a little, motioning to turn to leave, only pausing when you noticed Freya shifting her gaze in your direction just as you'd been turning around.
You didn't look over your shoulder, you really hoped she didn't say anything.
With a tightened jaw and a worsening headache, you sent Kat a quick message saying Tomas was OK, she asked for details, you just told her where you'd found him and dropped it. If she wanted to meet him face to face that'd have to be her own drama, you couldn't bring yourself to put any more thought into this.
You tracked your way back to the medical center, legs practically rushing as you moved. Your vision felt as it throbbed, was this a migraine? It was getting hard to think. The room opened with a hiss, everything felt irritating. Inside you noticed Diane had been sitting with some kind of contemplative look.
She squeaked a little a moment after, hopping off of the bed and rushing to stand. "I did what you asked, Master."
"Awesome. Great," you muttered, moving to the bed and just laying face down against the pillow. It was like getting a spike slowly thrust between your eyebrows and you needed to get it to leave.
"Master?" The nurse's voice rang, now worried.
"I'm going to sleep," you spoke into the pillow.
"Is everything ok Master?"
"No, it's not," you sighed, closing your eyes, kicking out your shoes and just trying to relax. "I just need to lay my head down for a while."
"Does it hurt anywhere?" A hand touched your arm, and you had to put an effort not to instantly pull away. A pause. "I can heal that, Master, it's just a mild headache."
And could this headache have come about from your body getting fucked with? The question lingered inside your head for long enough you'd almost spoke it. "I can handle it," you said instead. "Just need some rest."
You needed to clear your thoughts- things were out of balance, and the sensation of a goal felt like it was slipping through your fingers. What were you supposed to do? Why did everyone turn to you for answers? Just what was the right answer? It was like being back in the wilds, except worse; now you knew how dangerous things actually were.
How dangerous they could get if you took the wrong step.
With a growl, you'd been about to try and adjust yourself when something heavy and large flopped itself down on you, pinning you face down into the bed. "Rick," Monica's voice proclaimed, her arms wrapped around you tightly, making you grunt.
Despite yourself, you felt how warm she was. "I'm going to suffocate, Monica, please get off." You weren't even sure which of those words she understood.
Something must have registered, perhaps the tone. Still, the feline didn't let the hug go, and instead, she rolled to the side so you'd be on your side as well. Her arms still kept you snugly held against her. The position forced you to meet Diane's worried expression as she sat at the edge of the bed, her eyes looked almost pained as she hesitated.
"Please let me heal you, Master," she whispered.
What sense was there to hold out? A sigh of defeat, you closed your eyes. "Only healing."
Her fingers brushed against your temples, and the pain vanished faster than you could register her soothing touch.
This time you sighed more deeply- just like that, the discomfort was gone. So simple and easy, just have her... The fleeting thought made your brows knit slightly. "Diane," you muttered with a slight groan. "I need to know something."
Opening your eyes you looked at her, there were new questions bouncing inside your head. What if she had made the change in such a way she'd need to heal you constantly? What if, without the healing, the headache would only get worse? You remembered that first morning at her apartment, her words regarding cutting someone's spine to ensure compliance. Could you really tell the difference between being healed and having your body... changed? What if while you slept she...?
You closed your eyes, sighing, the stress was getting to you. You couldn't bring yourself to speak them out. "No, just wanted to know if you think the headache might be another symptom of cutting things short." It was the closest you could dare yourself to push. What if it was? What if just suspecting it brought her to take drastic measures?
"I don't think so, Master," she spoke, shaking her head, looking concerned.
But could you trust those words? That look? That expression? How could you handle having a pokegirl you didn't trust that could absolutely ruin you?
"I'll go sleep now." You closed your eyes. "I'll recall you all tonight, I think I need to clear my head."
The look on her face showed a flash of pain; she nodded. "Of course, Master."
In the back of your head, the image of Tomas and that new pokegirl bubbled to the surface.
The headache felt like it was about to come back.