RockyRoads
DEDICATED TO :
Deborah Kluge without whose extensive medical knowledge this story would have died a slow, painful death and without whose patience to answer my questions and use of her characters this fic would have never made it as far as it did. Thank you, my friend.
AND...
Ali O. Batley whose care and attention to my page and my works have pushed me this far and beyond what I had ever expected of myself. Your help is and forever will be appreciated, My Love, in fiction and in life. I love you.

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Disclaimer-I don't own the Quest Team, which is owned and copyrighted by Hanna Barbera. No copyright infringement is intended; this story is created for your reading pleasure only and is not producing any money.

June 6, 1998

Francesca Hamilton and Kefira Subramanian are the sole property of Deborah Kluge. Permission was granted for the use of these characters.
Peter Stanton is the sole property of Ali O. Batley. Permission was granted for the use of this character.

Rocky Roads

by : Catherine "Mouse" Beaudet

"Race! Incoming!"

Race Bannon turned to the voice just in time to receive a projectile in the face. He fell backwards into the thick snow bank, stunned, then proceeded to wipe melting snow away from his face from receiving the snowball. Moments later a small, white Pit Bull Terrier bounded onto his chest and licked away the rest of the snow with gusto.

"Ugh! Enough, Bandit!" He sat up and looked in the direction the snowball had come. Standing on another snow bank was a trio of teens, two boys and a girl, all laughing hysterically. "Very funny! Which one of you three do I have a vendetta against?" he called. The girl and one of the boys pointed at their dark skinned friend who raised a sheepish hand. "Run for you life, Hadji!" and Race bolted towards him.

Hadji Singh stiffened before suddenly running off towards the tree line. Race picked up handfuls of snow as he went along, chucking them at the retreating teen. The two remaining teens merely laughed, watching the chase, Bandit bounding behind the runners.

"Think we should help Hadji?" Jonny Quest asked the fiery redhead, giving her a lopsided grin.

Jessie Bannon favored her blond friend with a sultry smile. "Triple Team my Dad? Sounds fun."

They each grabbed large handfuls of snow, forming them into snowballs as they ran in the direction Hadji and Race had gone. Race was pummeling their India Native friend with snowballs as this one tried to shield himself with a tree. When he could, he would return the attack.

"Hey, Dad!" Jessie called with a mischievous grin.

"What?" he turned, only to receive two large snowballs in the face. He collapsed to the ground in shock, only to jump back to his feet again seconds later. "Oh, that does it. Rumble! Hadji, you're on my team!" The young India Native quickly complied.

"No fair, Hadj!" Jonny called, dodging snowballs. "We come in to help and you turn on us! Traitor!"

"A wise man always chooses his side carefully, my Brother!" he called back. "And I know for a fact that my chances are very good teaming up with Race!"

"If you don't like the odds, kiddo, change sides!" Race called, tossing a rather large snowball at Jessie.

"Well, since you put it that way...!"

Jessie faced him sharply, slight fear shining in her green eyes. "You wouldn't dare."

He grinned, an impish gleam in his bright blue eyes as he palmed a snowball. "Wouldn't I?"

She shrieked and took off at a run back towards the house with the three men right behind her. They were laughing. She couldn't help but laugh right along with them. Jessie could hear them coming closer. She had a good idea who it was that was right on her heels. Just then, she cleared the tree line and saw the house not far ahead.

"BONSAI!!" Jonny called out and tackled Jessie. Hitting the ground and rolling down a short incline, they were both quickly pounced on by Race and Hadji.

"Arrgh!! Get off me!" Jessie struggled to say from the combined weight of the three men on top of her and her uncontrollable laughter.

All four laughed. Race got to his knees and pummeled the three teens with a full barrage of snowballs. Hadji managed to roll out of the way of the attack, but Jonny stayed where he was and tried to protect his girlfriend from the barrage with his own body.

"Kind of feels familiar, doesn't it?" Jonny told her. She could only giggled in response.

"Alright, Romeo, get off my Daughter." and Race shoved him aside.

Jonny responded by tossing snow in Race's direction seconds before falling to his back in the soft snow. The four sat there, in the snow bank, recovering from their battle. "Is it me or was this fight just a little more intense than usual?" young Quest suddenly voiced.

Hadji jabbed his adopted Brother in the side. "Do you even have to ask that?"

"God! I love first snow falls!" he called out to the clear sky above, punching the air.

"Boys! Jessie! Race!" came a commanding voice from the house. They turned to see Doctor Benton Quest standing in the open door.

"What is it, Dad?" Jonny called.

"I need you four in here! We have something to discuss!"

Hadji and Race immediately jumped to their feet and headed for the front door. Jessie and Jonny hung back just long enough to be able to speak privately as they walked. They were worried, they had reason to. They had officially begun going out a little over two years ago, this their entire family and all their friends knew. But unbeknownst to those people, except Hadji, they had become lovers only a few months ago. They had kept this a secret from their own Fathers, afraid of the repercussions from actually telling them.

"You'd think he found out something." Jonny told Jessie with a slight smirk.

She looked at him, worried. "You don't think...?"

"We were careful. He couldn't have." he admonished.

"Hope you're right."

They all entered the house behind Doctor Quest, closing the door to the cold behind them. The four began shaking bits of snow off themselves, shrugging out of their winter coats, then followed the fifth member of the household into another part of the house.

"IRIS, activate Security Protocols, Level One. Voice recognition, Doctor Benton Quest." Benton stated to the ceiling.

"DOCTOR BENTON QUEST RECOGNIZED. LEVEL ONE SECURITY PROTOCOLS ACTIVATED." came a synthesized voice.

Race frowned. "Somethin' wrong, Doc?"

"No, just something very important not to be placed in public scrutiny by accident. All of this is unofficial... and must stay this way."

It was Jessie's turn to frown. "What is it, Doctor Quest?"

"Not here, Jessie. In my office." An middle aged woman stepped out of the kitchen at that moment, wiping her hands on a dishcloth. "Mrs. Evans, we'll have supper in the office."

"Yes, Doctor Quest." she replied.

"I will help her." and Hadji followed her into the kitchen.

The rest continued down the house's many long halls to Doctor Quest's office. It was a fairly large room with a smooth, black obsidian table governing the center of it. Two thirds of the walls were windows giving out on a spectacular view of the sea cliffs. The last wall had a book shelf and a number of computer monitors. Doctor Quest took a seat at the head of the table, Race at his right facing the windows, and Jonny and Jessie on Doctor Quest's left with their backs to the windows. Hadji and Mrs. Evans walked in moments later, Hadji balancing three trays with ease, then he sat next to Race when he had finished handing out the plates.

"Thank you, Mrs. Evans. That'll be all." Doctor Quest acknowledged and she left, dutifully closing the door behind her. "Now, I called you all in here on a matter of utmost importance. While you were outside I received a call from Admiral Bennett. A Priority One communication. He attached the following recording for us to see." and he pressed a button on the smooth table's surface.

As they ate the main computer screen behind Doctor Quest flickered to life to reveal a form hidden in shadows, the voice distorted and audibly lowered in pitch by a computer.

"My dear Prime Minister Chrétien." the voice began, chillingly robotic. "Don't bother having this transmission traced, I'll tell you myself were I, and my associates, are. We are somewhere in beautiful British Columbia, enjoying your wonderful Canadian hospitality. I must admit your constant boasting of your country's pristine beauty is true. Very beneficial for the health. But enough inane banter. You may not know it yet, but at this time I hold your country hostage. Now you probably think I'm bluffing so I have arranged a small demonstration. Picture this: A computer crash in Victoria right before a lovely little virus of deadly proportions, and of my own design hits the city's schools. You should be receiving reports of this as we speak. Children are dying, Mister Prime Minister, and the hospitals can do nothing because the computers, the life lines of your health care, are non-functional. What a little horror I've caused! My demands are simple, Mister Chrétien. I want the equivalent of your National Debt paid to me in American funds to the following Swiss Account number, 95-03-243, all the equipment I ask for from this moment on... Oh, and asylum on a permanent basis in your lovely country in the area I so choose. To show I'm not totally without a heart I will give you six weeks to fulfill my demands. Good day, Mister Prime Minister." and the screen went black.

"Such a gentleman." Jessie muttered sarcastically.

Doctor Quest turned back to the team. "The Prime Minister of Canada contacted the President asking for help with this situation, but they both want to keep this information away from the public to stay any possible uprisings and riots."

Race frowned slightly. "So, in other words, we're the only cavalry."

"I'm afraid so." he sighed grimly.

"Doctor Quest, have either governments discovered who this terrorist is?" Hadji thought to ask.

Benton shook his head in a negative. "The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the FBI, and the CIA have all run, and re-run, this footage through their latest filter programs and each time they came up empty handed. And British Columbia is a large province. There are so many valleys and mountains to hide in. They could be anywhere." He looked to Jonny who was staring intently at a replay on a small screen in the monitor built into the table's surface. He was frowning in deep concentration, chewing at a morsel of food thoughtfully. "Is something wrong, Jonny?"

His head snapped up as if waking from a dream. "What? Oh, no, nothing's wrong. It's just... I think I have an idea who this guy is."

"Please, continue." Father urged Son hopefully.

Jonny entered a sequence on the hidden console before him and the image re-appeared on the screen behind his Father. "IRIS, infrared scan." The image lit up in a sequence of cold blues and hot reds. Blues dominated the image, but it was more defined now. "Isolate and remove all non-biological heat sources."

"Ooo, big words." Jessie chuckled.

He grinned at her. "Not much bigger than most you've already heard." He turned back to the screen where a warm colored figure was now shown. "IRIS, can you extrapolate from this image and replace the colors with flesh tones? Run a scan through our data banks and find the closest match."

"WORKING."

"What're you going on here, kid?" Race demanded.

"A hunch. Who do we know who has the knowledge and motive to do this sort of thing?"

"MATCH FOUND." reported IRIS in answer to Jonny's last question. "NINETY SEVEN POINT EIGHT PERCENT MATCH TO ONE DOCTOR JEREMIAH SURD."

Jonny leaned back in his seat with a slightly pleased smile. "Hunch confirmed."

"Good hunch." Race had to agree. "You have a sixth sense for this sort of thing."

Jonny shrugged. "It just fit his MO Plus, he was due to show up. You should know better than anyone, Race, that he doesn't stay out of sight for very long. How much easier crime fighting would be if everyone had a system like IRIS." he mused with a smile.

Jessie snickered. "How boring too."

"But," Hadji began, puzzled. "Isn't Doctor Surd's mind trapped in Questworld, unable to escape?"

"Yeah, I made sure of that." confirmed Jessie. She suddenly sat up straighter. "I have an idea. IRIS, run the audio filter program on the voice. Adjust to eliminate all distortions."

The voice of the recording played again as IRIS made the necessary adjustments.

Race shook his head at a loss. "That still sounds enough like Surd to me."

"I wonder... IRIS, increase the pitch until a voice match can be found in the database." ordered Doctor Quest.

The voice once again began to play, the male like tone changing as it got higher and higher. Finally the changes stopped on a clearly recognizable woman's voice, one they knew all too well.

"Julia." Jessie identified with a grimace before IRIS could identify it.

"For the fox to throw off the scent of the hounds, the fox must disguise the scent. Who else but us would know about Surd's present condition, except maybe her." Hadji voiced.

"Yeah, and this fox's out for our blood." Race grumbled. "She won't be happy 'til the world pays for what she thinks they did to Surd, us first. Julia probably orchestrated this whole thin' knowin' we'd be called in to help clean up the mess. She's nuts which makes her real dangerous to tangle with."

Jonny merely smiled, waving off his concern. "We've dealt with her before. So, when are we leaving for British Columbia?"

"We are not." Benton countered. "Race and I will be going to help the Royal Canadian Mounted Police locate Julia and co-ordinate relief efforts with Doctor Marie Métier. You three will be staying here."

Race, Hadji and Jonny all perked up at the name.

"Marie's there?! I thought she was still up North." Race questioned with a wide smile.

"No, she moved to Simoom Sound in British Columbia and became the local doctor for that region. She's one of the few medical practitioners down there who refuses to use a computer which makes her and her team an invaluable asset."

Jessie nudged Jonny's side to get his attention and leaned towards him to speak without disturbing the others. "Who's this Marie Métier?"

He leaned towards her, his voice hushed. "She's a doctor we ran into when we were up North near Alaska. Turns out she the descendant of the most legendary Métier in history. The one who was reportedly a werewolf."

"Get out!"

"No, seriously. I saw a man change into a wolf right in front of me. Turns out she was immune and was trying to develop a cure for the other remaining member of her family when we found her. We helped her out and barely got the cure to the guy in time." He suddenly grinned. "Your Dad had a thing for her."

"What!? Dad!!" Race's head jerked up with a slight, dreading wince. "Why didn't you tell me about you and this Marie Métier?"

"Because there was nothing to tell." he replied, hoping he sounded convincing.

"Absolutely nothing?" she probed.

"Absolutely, Ponchita." he assured.

She scrutinized him with a deep frown for a moment, before leaning back in her seat. "If you promise there was nothing, then okay."

"I promise."

"Alright then."

"Back on topic here for a second, why can't we come with you guys?" Jonny suddenly demanded.

Doctor Quest sighed silently. He and Jonny always had this discussion each and every time the teen was told to stay behind. "We both know you and Jessie have mid-terms to study for. I want Hadji here to make sure you do study and to make sure you stay out of trouble. You know your reputations..."

"... of getting into mayhem in any given situation, yeah, I know." Jonny groaned in defeat as Jessie tried not to chuckle. It was a battle she was steadily losing. He gave a mock suffering stare. "Don't start."

She held up her hands in defense, suddenly bursting into laughter. "Nothing... I said nothing..." she struggled to say.

He sulked, turning from her. "Nice."

Jessie gripped his thigh gently, giving him a sweet smile. "Don't be such a big baby. We'll have fun here too."

He looked at her hand, then to her, a slight grin working at the corners of his mouth. "I'll hold you to that." He turned back to his Father, sighing. "Can we at least join you after we're done our exams?"

"Yes, but only then." Benton replied with a grin, knowing his Son's zeal for action and adventure. "For this mission the President and the Canadian Prime Minister have both asked for the utmost discretion and secrecy. We are not to speak to anyone about any aspect of this. We leave tomorrow morning."

"I will go prepare the computer equipment you and Race will need, Doctor Quest." Hadji announced as he stood and headed for the door.

Jonny, too, stood. "Which leaves us with K.P. duty. C'mon, Jess." and he and Jessie gathered up the plates.

"Why'd I get dragged into this?" she voiced with a smirk as they walked into the kitchen.

"I need someone to dry." he merely smiled and tossed her a dish towel before turning to fill the sink with warm water and dish soap. "Besides, we have plans to make." he continued more softly, beginning to wash the plates.

She understood and grinned. "Do we? I always thought we were spontaneous when it came to that."

"We are, it's just we have to be more careful since we'll have someone around who has an idea of just how far we've gone. Plus, we have to get more... supplies." and he handed her the first of the plates, a bright seductive gleam in his blue eyes.

She nearly dropped the plate so much this caught her off guard. Mrs. Evans turned to them at that moment to make sure they were doing a good job. Jessie smiled au her in acknowledgment to which she smiled back and turned away.

Jessie lowered her voice. "Already?" she questioned. "You told me you had a box full."

"I did, but we've been a little more active lately." he merely replied, still grinning.

"Oh." she giggled. "Right."

They finished the plates and put them away. "I'm gonna go help my Dad pack, you know, to alleviate any of his fears." he told her as he wiped the soap off his hands with the dishtowel.

"Ooo, more big words." she cooed, wiping her hands as well.

He smiled and pulled her into his arms, holding her against himself. "And here are some more for you to consider." and he began to whisper something in her ear. Her eyes went wide with a gasp, then she began to giggle uncontrollably as she wrapped her arms around him. "That should give you something to look forward to for later." he chuckled.

"Why does it have to be later?" she breathed seductively, nuzzling his cheek.

"'Cause I can just imagine either one of our Dads walking in on us. God knows we wouldn't live very long after that."

"Good point. I'll wait for you, anxiously."

"I can imagine. Tomorrow, after they're gone." he promised.

She grinned. "Pinky swear?" and she held up a hooked pinky finger.

He hooked his pinky finger with hers, returning the smile. "Pinky swear." A tender kiss to her lips then sent him off to find his Father on the house's second floor. He was grumbling something about world's greatest inventions and looking for light in a black hole under his breath as he searched through the large walk-in closet. "Can't find something, Pop?" Jonny inquired carefully.

The elder Quest turned to find his Son standing in the doorway. "Jonny, yes. The larger of my suitcases." and he returned to hunting through his things.

"I think Jess still has it from when you lent it to her to go to San Francisco. I can check..."

"Please." he sighed, finally giving up.

Jonny went to the top of the stairs and leaned over the railing. "Hey, Jess!"

She came running into sight below him. "Yeah?"

"You still have Dad's suitcase? He needs it."

"Check my closet. It should still be there."

"Thanks, Ace." he smiled.

Mrs. Evans was climbing the stairs at that moment with a basket full of clean laundry. "I really don't get you kids." she voiced. "Jessie won't let any of the others into her room when she isn't there, not even me or her Father, and yet you can walk in whenever you want."

Jonny just smiled. "The privileges of being her boyfriend, Mrs. Evans." and he went to retrieve the suitcase.

He opened the door to Jessie's room, stepped un, closed it, and just stood there for a moment with his eyes closed. He could feel Jessie's presence permeating this room. A faint hint of strawberries wafted through the air. Given the chance he could stay here all day, but his Father was waiting. Jonny opened his eyes and retrieved the suitcase from her closet. He then left, entered his Father's room, and placed the empty suitcase on the bed.

"So, how long do you think this little problem will take to solve?"

"The virus shouldn't take too long. Julia must have gone through Surd's files to develop it. Reverse researching it shouldn't be very hard."

"What about finding Julia?"

"That might take a little longer. What puzzles me is she said I, and my associates. Surd isn't much help to her in his present state, which only leaves Lorenzo."

"But like you said, it was associates plural."

"Exactly my point. Who are the others she was referring to? Why don't you have IRIS run a scan for any recent jail breaks, checking for those who have it in for us."

Jonny smirked. "Long list. Can you give me something to narrow it down?"

Benton chuckled. "Right. Look back a month or so, anyone with medical and or computer skills who had help escaping. That should narrow the list of suspects down to about forty or so."

"A list of forty or so to go through to find those with the best motive. Well, this sure won't be a boring two weeks."

Benton merely chuckled before giving his Son a serious look. "Now, I want you three to behave during that time, especially you and Jessie."

Jonny jerked in surprise, slightly fearful. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that you two are getting closer and closer as the days go by and I know that, as teens, you're probably getting curious about taking the next step."

"Geez, Dad!" he admonished looking decidedly uncomfortable.

"No, I mean it. I want you to be responsible if things begin to happen." His Son took on an air of debating hesitation as if wondering whether he should tell his Father something. "What is it?"

He hesitated for a moment, then sighed in resolve. "It's too late, Dad."

"What's too late?" Benton was clearly confused.

Again he hesitated. "Jess and I... We... already took the next step." he finally stated.

Total shock crossed Benton's face at his Son's admission. "You what!?" he nearly shouted.

"We... you know... God, Dad, do I really have to go into details? Please, don't tell Race."

"And just when were you two planning on telling us?"

"Don't know, really. We didn't force it on each other, if that's what you're wondering. No peer pressure. It was what we both wanted. We were careful, Dad, honest."

Benton crossed his arms across his chest. "From when does this date back?"

"Four months ago, when you guys went to bring Estella back to South America." he answered in slight fear, but all honesty.

Father scrutinized Son for a long moment before sighing heavily. "Well, there's nothing I can do about this now. So long as you're careful--"

"We are."

"Alright then. When we come back at the en of all this I want both you and Jessie to sit down with us and have a long talk about this, understood?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Good. Now, help me finish packing. Race and I are leaving early tomorrow morning."

* * *

Jessie sat at a computer terminal in the lighthouse, deeply engrossed in a program she was writing for Questworld, a personal program meant for her and only one other. A small grin tugged at the corners of her lips. Deep down she knew she was a hopeless romantic. Everyone at the Quest Compound and some of her closer friends knew this too. And to make her forever happy Jonny had gladly given in to that side of his girlfriend. The proof was in the way he looked at her now and the words he used to woo her. He had brushed up on his romantic Shakespearean plays, reciting lines to her at times, and she often found him with his nose pressed in his Mother's old book of poems. This program she was working on was based on several of those poems from that book. She tingled at the prospects of sharing it with Jonny when she was finished. She saved what work she had done, blanked the screen, and stretched her arms above her head just as the door opened, letting in a sharp breeze. She turned to see Hadji and Jonny walk in, both covered in snow.

"Another snowball fight?" she questioned with a smirk.

"It's the first snowfall." Jonny replied, removing his coat and shaking the snow out of his hair and shirt collar. "I'm taking advantage of it."

"And letting Hadji turn you into Frosty the Snowman by the looks of it. Sure you two left some snow out there?" she chuckled, turning back to the monitor.

"There is plenty left to bury him in it later." Hadji quipped, punching his Brother's shoulder.

"Not if I get to you first." he countered, punching him back in return.

Jonny hung up his coat, then headed for Jessie. He gripped her shoulder tenderly, causing her to let her head fall back to smile up at him, then he placed a gentle kiss on her lips in greeting. He pulled back slightly to smile down at her, sitting at her side with Hadji at her other. "So, what're you up to?"

"Just a little something for a rainy day." she replied, giving Jonny a wink. He smiled, understanding. "Apart from the battle you guys had, what brings you in here?"

It was Hadji who answered. "Doctor Quest would like us to begin a search to determine who Julia's other accomplices might be. We must search through police and prison records."

"One legal hacking job coming up. What exactly are we looking for?"

"Anyone with medical know-how to create the virus and anyone with computer skills to track down Surd's mind floating in virtual reality." Jonny answered. "Prison break-outs, of people who have a vendetta against us, are a priority."

Jessie's fingers flew over the keyboard, punching in sequence after sequence of codes and numbers. "Parameters set. Beginning search." She leaned back in her seat with a satisfied sigh. "This should take a few minutes. So, what're we doing tomorrow afternoon?"

"I was planning on meditating for most of the afternoon, to mentally prepare myself to encourage you both to study." Hadji replied.

Jonny winced. "Ouch! I can't be sure, but I think we've just been dissed, Jess."

"I think we have, Jonny."

Hadji merely chuckled. "And what do you have planned?"

"Ah, now there's a touchy subject." Jessie replied with a playful grin in Jonny's direction.

"Something best to be left for a more private time. Very well. I understand."

Jonny eyes widened slightly. "Do you?"

Hadji merely leaned back with a small smile and a wink. The young couple merely stared at the young Sultan of Bangalore for a moment, stunned, before turning to smile knowingly at each other.

""Kefira."" they stated in unison, then laughed.

Hadji merely frowned a grin. "At least we had more restraint than you."

Jessie began to laugh even harder. "Ow, dissed again!"

"You've been practicing, Hadj." Jonny grinned.

He chuckled. "One must be prepared for any situation that may arise."

Jonny was more amused than convinced. "Right." He looked over at the computer at the names beginning to scroll there. "Hey, we got our list."

They read it over, but Hadji, being the faster reader, stiffened suddenly. "Oh dear." he muttered.

"What?"

"Kyle Merrick." he replied.

Jessie looked at him sharply. "I thought he was caught just before he left the country?"

"He was, thanks to your dream. According to this he escaped with help less than a month ago. It was reported that he was heading North, but the authorities lost his trail somewhere in North Dakota."

Unseen, Jessie's hand gripped Jonny's in fear and he gave it a squeeze. Kyle Merrick was obsessed with Jessie to the point of near madness. They had met him after a plane accident in the Colombian rainforests. She, Jonny and Kyle had ended up locked in the same room for one night and he had tried to rape her that very night. Jonny had stopped him just in time. Kyle subscribed to the cliché that if he couldn't have her no one would. She was terrified of him.

"Anyone else we have experience with?" Jonny asked, opting to change the subject for Jessie's sake..

"Lesser criminals with minor medical and computer skills. Ah, this is interesting!"

"What is it?" Jessie inquired.

"The authorities deemed it important to note the itinerary of Francesca Hamilton. She boarded a plane heading for Montreal, then one to Calgary, then one to destination unknown."

"Sounds a little too fishy to me." Jonny voiced. "Merrick heads North and so does Francesca. I think we found two key players in Julia's little game. What about the other breakouts?"

"Peter Stanton is the only other important name." Peter Stanton was a madman, a murderous psychopath, the Quest Team had encountered in the area around Rockport. He was summarily sent to a maximum security insane asylum where he began to nurse an incredible grudge against Jonny in particular. "The others were not deemed important enough to follow up on. Petty criminals."

"Then we have to trace them too, just to be on the safe side. Can we call up a list of aliases?"

"I can try." Jessie began to type again at a phenomenal speed entering in a new set of parameters. "This one'll take a few days. Guys like that have loads of AKA's so I'm going through every FBI, CIA, police, RCMP, and CSIS criminal data base out there. We might get an answer by this time next week. Then we have to go through boarding lists of all the airports in North America. Ugh, this'll be a brain drainer."

"So what do we do now?"

The three teens looked at each other before breaking out into smiles. ""SNOWBALL FIGHT!!!"" they shouted, then raced for their coats before leaping into the snow banks outside.

* * *

Julia paced angrily from one end of the room to the other, her dyed black hair whipping with each turn. Her green eyes flashed as her anger rose. Things were not going as she planned. Seven of the nine experts, she and Lorenzo had taken the time and the effort to break out of the various maximum security prisons, had arrived. The two she needed for her next job still hadn't shown up. She was a computer expert, she knew that well, probably was the second best next to Surd. But still, for what she had planned she needed all the help she could get. Lorenzo was canon fodder, expendable if things got too sticky, but he was one man. She needed more like him. Three more to be exact. One of them was already there.

Leaning nonchalantly against a wall was that one, a petite raven haired woman dressed in very tight jeans and a white crop top. Her deep violet eyes watched Julia pace, a tiny grin on her ruby red lips. An aura of pure feminism radiated from her every pore. This was a woman who knew she was beautiful, who knew she had sex appeal, and used it with practiced expertise.

"Did you at least tell these two gentlemen that you were going to pay them?" she asked in a honey smooth voice with just enough of a hint of goading to annoy Julia.

This wasn't the first time she had used this tone of voice with her. "Don't test me, Francesca. Merrick was interested enough in the pay I promised. It's Stanton I can't be sure of. His record stated he was unstable. I should've put a tracer on him when we broke him out."

"And how can you be certain this Merrick guy is more trustable?"

"Because this Merrick guy is here." came a new voice from the door.

Both Julia and Francesca Hamilton looked up. A young, brown haired man stood in the door. He was dressed all in black, a leather jacket casually slung over one shoulder. Francesca's breath caught in her throat painfully at the sight of this ruggedly handsome young man. All the black he wore accentuated his well chiseled features, making him all the more impressive. For the longest time she had been obsessed with Jonny Quest. Years back she had met him with the sole purpose of gathering information on his Father's equipment, but inadvertently ended up falling in love with young Quest. She had been willing to go to any length to keep him. And that meant getting rid of Jessie Bannon. She ha come so very close too, putting Jessie in the hospital, but Jonny had become even more tied to Jessie since then. She had tried to get him again. But now, as she looked at this new comer, she felt a shifting of tides within her. He looked incredible, his grey eyes seeming to pierce her to her black soul. He was dangerous, she could feel it, and she thrilled from it.

He stepped into the room towards Julia. "So, you're the one I owe my freedom to." He offered his hand in greeting. "Kyle Merrick, your new Merc. Whatever you need, whoever you want dead, I'll make it happen."

"Julia. And this young lady is your new partner, Francesca Hamilton, also a mercenary. You'll find you and her are a lot alike. What knowledge you may lack she'll fill them in."

Kyle didn't even give Francesca so much as a look. "I work alone." he protested.

Julia came menacingly close, hatred and anger burning in her eyes. He didn't even flinch. "Not while I'm in charge. You and all the others are the best there are and we are all familiar with the Quests and Bannons. I want them dead. For that, you'll all work as a team. You got that?"

Kyle frowned. "Yeah. I got it." he bit out.

"Good. Where're the others?"

"Their in the computer room." And without another word Julia stormed past him and out of the room. Kyle stood where he was, glowering at the door through which Julia had disappeared. Who's this woman to be ordering me around? he questioned inwardly.

"Don't take her seriously." came a soothing voice. "Julia knows all our reasons for wanting to get back at the Quests, but she thinks her reasons are more important."

He faced Francesca and mentally marveled at this tiny, if not provocative, woman. She was feminine in every way and knew it. Her tight clothing hugged every curve, leaving nothing up to the imagination. In her eyes Kyle saw a fire, burning with what fuel he didn't know. In his mind he truly felt this woman could make him forget Jessie Bannon.

"Oh? And what exactly is your reason to get rid of the Quests?" he demanded, hoping to sound uninterested in her.

Her lips curled back into a stunning smile. "I'm only interested in getting rid of one person: Jessie Bannon. She stole the one good thing in my life."

"Let me guess: He didn't think you were right for him." He sighed. "Story of my life. She was going to be mine. I had her, or would have if he hadn't gotten in the way." Kyle suddenly frowned. "But why am I telling you this?"

She pushed off the wall and sashayed towards him. "Because you're realizing Julia was right about us." Francesca slid her index finger from his collar bone down to his belt, all the while giving him a sultry smile. "We're the same, you and I, like it or not." she very nearly cooed.

He struggled to hide his shiver and goose bumps from her. "Right." he stated, sounding unconvinced.

She made a dismissive sound as she gave a wave of her hand, having seen his reaction reflected in his eyes. "Suit yourself." and she turned to walk away. "Oh, by the way. Don't get on Julia's bad side. She may not look it, but I've seen her kill a man twice her size."

"Yeah? And what did he do that was so wrong?"

She smiled at him over her shoulder. "He corrected her elocution." She then walked out of the room, her hips swaying seductively.

He was stunned for a moment, more by her actions than words, then decided to jog to catch up to her. Together they entered the computer room. It was aptly named. Lining every wall was a series of computers and various equipment all buzzing, clicking and beeping with life. One corner was sealed off in a kind of Plexiglas material, a rustic yet medically sound laboratory.

An elderly man, Basil Thornton, and a young woman with bright yellow hair, Aidan Armand, worked behind the glass completely clad in environmental suits. He was a medical genius with so many degrees in molecular biology and bio-engineering that one easily lost count, but who, in need of money, had sold his research on the Black Market. She, on the other hand, had stolen all the medical knowledge she had in the same fields. And all that information she had committed to memory to prevent a theft from occurring to her.

At the computers sat a young man, Ted Milani, and two women, one young named Cassidy Bela, the other older named Ethyl Erma, all under the supervision of Lorenzo. Milani, a small man with little in the way of looks, was a self proclaimed computer expert who had been caught hacking into government files. Bela, her purple hair cut short and spiked, was a hacker for hire, caught stealing information for an employer she refused to betray. And Erma was just in the wrong place at the wrong time during a case of computer espionage. She was accused and summarily arrested.

A woman stood with Julia over blue prints of various buildings, her body that of a dancer's, her brown hair tied in a tight braid down past her waist. In a wheelchair that completely encased him and hooked up to the computers was the inert Doctor Jeremiah Surd.

"Who's the old man?" Kyle asked, indicating Surd with his chin.

"The reason we're all here. Doctor Surd." Francesca answered softly.

"Doesn't look like much."

"Don't let Julia hear you say that." She smiled up at him. "It would be a shame to lose you now that you're here."

Outwardly, he showed nothing. Inwardly, his heart skipped a painful beat. Oh yeah, she knows which buttons to press.

"There you are." Julia announced, catching Kyle and Francesca's attention. "If you're sufficiently resolved with each other you can come here for your briefing." They approached the table and regarded the plans. "This is Katianna Souriskova. For this job she's in charge." Julia looked directly at Kyle. "You got that?" He remained quiet, setting his jaw. "Good. I want you to go to the Canadian Armed Forces Base of Chilliwack and hijack weapons, equipment, and a vehicle."

"From a Military Base? Are you nuts?" Francesca shot him a wide eyed glance, shaking her head slightly to warn him off. He frowned in return, silently telling her not a chance.

"If you follow my instructions we'll get in and out before they realize it." Katianna told him, raising her eyes for the first time. Kyle was surprised at the golden amber orbs now staring at him. "I've done this a hundred times. The Canadian Military is stretched thin with all the cut backs their government is doing. Even their most secure depot have maybe twenty guards watching it and two Military Police cars patrolling."

"You seem to know a lot about this." Francesca asked skeptically.

Katianna shrugged. "I've spent some time in Canada. I've gotten to know the ins and outs of their military, museums, banks. Nothing can keep out the Kat when she's on the move."

Kyle looked at Julia in disbelief. "You hired a thief?"

Julia frowned. "I need her for her skills as a thief and as an unknown face. She's bait for Race Bannon."

"Please, Julia. You make that last bit of my job sound like such a bad thing." Katianna chuckled. "It'll be fun distracting this guy."

"Just follow the plan. Lorenzo, take the helicopter and go to Maine. I have a feeling Stanton went there instead of here. Find him and bring him back."

* * *

"Alright, now remember, kids." Benton warned at he and the three teens crossed the tarmac, at the Boston Airport, to the Dragonfly. "I want you three to behave while we're gone."

"Nothing will happen, Doctor Quest. I will see to it." Hadji grinned in reassurance.

Jonny frowned a smirk. "Traitor." he muttered as they stopped at the base of the boarding ramp to the Dragonfly.

Jessie could only giggle. "Don't worry, Doctor Quest. We'll behave." and she gave Benton a goodbye hug.

Benton grinned. "Right, I'm sure you will." Releasing her he hugged Hadji, then held his Son. "Remember what I said yesterday. We have g lot to talk about when we get back."

"Yes, Sir. Take care of yourself, Dad."

"Will do." he chuckled.

He mussed up his Son's hair affectionately, then boarded the Dragonfly. The three teens retreated to a safe distance as the jet's engines whined to life. It pulled away slowly, taxied down a runway, then raced off before taking off into the clear blue skies.

Jonny watched the plane disappear into a tiny dot in the sky. "Well, there they go." He turned to his friends. "Who wants to do what?"

"Mrs. Evans invited me on a shopping trip downtown." Jessie stated as they started back to the van.

"Cool."

"Hold it, Lover." she grinned, stopping him. "Girls only. You and Hadji will just have to find something else to do while we're gone." Jonny had a dejected look on his face. Jessie touched his cheek tenderly. "I'll find something nice and make it up to you tonight, I promise." she whispered against his lips.

"Better keep that promise, Gorgeous." he breathed, then kissed her lips.

They drove back to the Quest Compound where Mrs. Evans was waiting for Jessie. Within moments the two women were driving off for town. This left the boys to enter the house.

"Guys afternoon at home, eh, Hadj?"

"So it would seem." He suddenly began to fidget in an internal debate.

"Something wrong, Bro?"

He hesitated for a moment. "I need to ask you something, Jonny."

"Sure." They entered the Family Room and sat opposite each other. A bright warm fire crackled in the large fireplace. A hint of hickory and walnut wafted through the air. "What is it?"

"It is about my relationship with Kefira Subramanian."

"What about it? Don't tell me you're having second thought about her? I thought she was the love of your life?"

"No, she is. It's just we... I..." He sighed heavily, resting his arms on his knees. "How does one know when one is ready?"

"Ready to... What?" Jonny prompted. Hadji merely gave him a look somewhere between a prompting and a blank stare. Jonny suddenly understood. "Oh! Well... uh..." He looked decidedly uncomfortable. "I don't really know, buddy. With Jess and me the moment just felt... right."

"But how does one recognize that feeling?"

"You just do. There aren't any bells or whistles that go off. I guess... I don't know... If you know for a fact that this is the person you want to spend every living moment with for as long as there's a second left in the Universe, then one day you'll wake up and you'll know that particular day is the day when everything changes. If you can still feel her in your arms when she isn't there, still taste her, then the time's almost right."

Hadji listened intently, then suddenly smirked. "You speak from experience, my friend?"

Jonny leaned back in his seat with a shy grin. "Yeah, maybe I do. Jess makes it so easy, you know. I swear, Hadj, if Kefira can make you feel even half as good as Jess makes me feel everyday we're together, then you're in for a real treat. Just, let her do the initiating. Women know when the time's right. Why did you feel the need to ask all this anyway?"

Hadji looked away, suddenly looking tired. "My Mother is pushing for Kefira and I to wed. She feels we are old enough and wants to secure the future of our Family line on the throne. I am not sure we are ready yet."

"And that's why you wanted to know when you feel the time is right?" Hadji nodded. "It's just the way your Mother is. I mean, think about it. Neela lost you when your Father died, she spent years in jail, she finds you again only to have to share you with your family here. That has to be hard on her."

"But why does she insist I marry so quickly?"

"I think its because she sees it as a way to keep you in Bangalore. Once you're married you'd have to stay there and... produce an heir. She finally gets her Son back and she wants to keep you. Best advice? Sit her down and talk everything through. Ask her why she wants all of this and tell her why you don't."

"I guess you are right, My Brother. When I return to Bangalore I will do as you suggest." He suddenly smiled at his adoptive Brother. "Thank you. And now you must begin to study."

Jonny groaned. "Oh, don't start with me, Hadj."

"I have promised your Father that I would make sure you and Jessie study. Until she returns I turn my attention to you. What is the saying? Hit the books?" and he indicated Jonny's book bag next to a large recliner.

"You're a regular slave driver, you know that?" he accused as he moved to the recliner, pulling out a large binder and a number of textbooks. "And after I just helped you out with your problem."

He merely chuckled. "Never a moments rest for the weary, my friend. Go to it."

"Dictator." Jonny muttered, opening his books and beginning to memorize the information.

Hadji watched for a few seconds more before sitting lotus style and entering a deep state of meditation, letting his mind float away on the eddies and currents of the Astral Plane. This was how Jessie and Mrs. Evans found them a few hours later. Their arms were loaded each with bags from certain stores and the grocery store. Two bags Jessie kept clutched preciously close to hide them. The smaller of the two was clearly a pharmacy bag. She set the grocery bag she carried in the kitchen, then went to the Family Room. She stopped in the door at the think silence that reigned here. Hadji sat perfectly still, his mind floating somewhere between here and beyond, and Jonny had his nose pressed in a stack of notes and textbooks.

As if he sensed her standing there Jonny raised his head and smiled at her. He pointed to Hadji and mouthed meditating. She smiled back and nodded. She showed him one of the bags she had kept so preciously, her smile becoming a playful grin. He could read the bright pink writing on it, Victoria's Secrets. His smile became lopsided. I love you, he mouthed.

I know, she mouthed in return. She then began to tiptoe away towards the stairs. After hiding her purchase she would come back to join him.

"Not until you study for a few hours." Hadji suddenly voiced.

Jessie froze. "How...?"

"When one is at total peace one is silent. This helps when you are listening for another person's breathing." he grinned, still not moving or opening his eyes. "You can show off your purchases to Jonny after you finish studying."

Her eyes went wide. "Now how'd you know about that one?"

"I heard the bag rustling. Now, I believe you said your first exam was chemistry?"

She sighed heavily. "Alright, don't have to tell me twice." she groaned, retrieving her book bag and dropping into a chair opposite of Jonny. Jessie wasn't used to being told, by anyone, to study. This was something she did willingly, but she knew the only reason Hadji told her to do this was out of fairness to Jonny. This one always had to be pushed to study. Since Hadji had ordered him into this task it was only fair he do the same to Jessie. She hid her bags from the store from sight, then pulled out her notes and textbooks. "You're pulling weight because you're the oldest." she accused.

"I am at that. You have three hours left before supper. Study until then and you may have the rest of the evening off. Deal?"

""Deal."" the two replied grudgingly.

A long, quiet hour went by as Hadji continued to meditate and Jessie and Jonny continued to study diligently. His eyes becoming tired, Jonny closed them and pinched the bridge of his nose. They felt like they were about to fall out of their sockets. Leaning his cheek on his knuckles he looked across the room to where Jessie sat, still engrossed in her studies. A small grin turned up the corners of his lips. Her chin rested on her fingers as her incredible emerald eyes skimmed the contents of every page. Her ruby red lips moved slightly as she memorized the information. The fire caught the reds and deep coppers of her hair. She was simply stunning, breath-taking.

As is sensing his eyes drinking her in, Jessie blinked and looked up. Sure enough her was smiling at her. She returned the smile willingly. Sometimes she wondered how she could have missed seeing the boyish good looks in this handsome young man as they were growing up. His clear blue eyes glowed with a caring and loving light towards his family, with the want of adventure when they were off in some exotic local, with steel towards an enemy, and with undying passion when he looked only at her. Like now. His body had been chiseled to just the right proportions over the years of missions and constant action. He winked at her and an involuntary shiver raced down her spine pleasantly, knowing what he was thinking.

Later, she mouthed with a grin.

He nodded with a small sigh and they both turned their attention back to their notes. As information bombarded their minds they hardly noticed the time fly by until Mrs. Evans walked into the Family Room.

"My, I've never heard such quiet from you kids." she marveled.

"Blame that on the Task Master sitting there." Jonny smirked, indicating Hadji with a jerk of his chin.

"Whoever's fault it is, thank you. Dinner's ready in the kitchen."

Jessie and Jonny Looked to Hadji who slowly unfolded his legs from under him and stood. Only then did he open his eyes and smile at his friends. "You both upheld your end of the bargain. And I will uphold mine. Your studies are over for the day."

The two teens quickly put their books away, leapt to their feet, and headed for the kitchen. They were just about to sit down when one of IRIS's security alarms went off. "IRIS, identify disturbance!" Jonny called over the din of the sirens.

"UNIDENTIFIED MALE INTRUDER LOCATED IN BOAT HOUSE."

With Mrs. Evans behind them they dashed into Doctor Quest's office and activated all the security cameras for the boat house. They panned through six shots before finally finding the intruder. He was sneaking around the edge of the Questor. Jessie pressed the zoom button to get a closer look.

"I don't believe it!" she gasped.

Creeping towards the tunnel door, leading to the house, was Peter Stanton. He was easy to recognize with his long, tousled brown hair and five o'clock shadow beard. He turned enough for the camera to catch his blood shot eyes and a gaping, profusely salivating mouth of rotting teeth. Jonny's mind immediately flashed back to the first moment they had met this psychopath. He was an ex-Marine they had run across two years prior in downtown Rockport. Given a dis-honorary discharge from the Marines for disorderly conduct and attacking fellow officers, Stanton had decided the world had to pay for what had happened to him, starting with the town his unit was in when he was discharged. The Quest Team had run across him by accident and had stopped him at every psychotic turn he took. But to Stanton it wasn't the team that stopped him. It was Jonny Quest and he developed a deep rooted hatred for the young teen. Mere sight caused Stanton to fly into a rage. He had been sent to a maximum security asylum, but now, here he was on the Quest Compound.

Jonny shook his head in dismay. "That guy doesn't know when to leave well enough alone."

"One should never try to apply reason to the mind of the insane." Hadji told him. "They have their own way of seeing things."

"Unfortunately. IRIS, seal off boat house."

"BOAT HOUSE SEALED."

"Okay, he's locked in now. Anyone have any idea how we're going to deal with him without getting ourselves killed in the process?"

"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm taking my precautions." Jessie voiced as she moved to one of the book cases. She tipped one of the novels on a shelf and a panel opened up to a mini stash of rifles and hand weapons. The two men and Mrs. Evans gaped in shock. "Dad made a point to show this to me, just in case." She chose a police issue twelve gauge shotgun and loaded a round into the chamber. "He so much as twitches wrong and I give him a new look."

Jonny looked at her. "Remind me to stay off your bad side." he voiced.

She grinned back seductively. "You could never get on my bad side, Hot Shot." Taking another shotgun she handed it to Mrs. Evans. The elderly woman held it gingerly with a look of protest on her face. "For defense, Mrs. Evans. This one's loaded with rock salt. It'll hurt him enough to give you time to run for it."

She nodded reluctantly, hugging the weapon close, and the three teens ran for the door, pausing only long enough to don their coats. The made their way to the boat house, making sure to stay away from the windows and therefore remain out of sight. Just as they turned a corner to reach the door, Jonny turned to Jessie to stop her. She looked at him, confused.

"I want you to stay here, Jess." he told her.

"No, Jonny--!"

"Don't argue with me about this. I don't want you to get hurt." He took her shoulders firmly and looked her straight in the eye. "Listen to me, Ace. We need someone out here in case he gets past us. You'll be our Ace in the hole. Please, just do this."

"Jonny is right, Jessie. We need someone out here to stop him in case he gets past us. And you have the gun."

She opened her mouth to protest, but quickly shut it again and reluctantly nodded in agreement. Hadji went on ahead, but Jessie gripped Jonny's arm to hold him back. She looked into his eyes with pure worry and concern. "You know how he flies off the handle each time he sees you. Be careful, Lover." she whispered to him.

He gave her his lopsided grin as he tenderly cupped her cheek. "For you, always." he assured, then dashed off to join Hadji. The young Sultan had his ear pressed to the door. "What's he doing?"

"Most likely destroying some of your Father's valuable equipment from the sounds of it."

"Wacko." he muttered to the door. "IRIS, unlock main door, silently." There was an almost inperceivable click as the computer responded to the voice command. "Okay, Hadj, on three... THREE!!"

They burst through the door and tackled Stanton to the ground, having caught him by surprise. He struggled wildly, shouting and grunting, trying madly to get these two teens off his back. It was like trying to hold on to the back of a bucking horse, never getting the chance to reaffirm a grip. Stanton managed to get his foot against Hadji's mid-section and shoved him away hard, knocking the wind out of him as he hit against the hull of the Questor. Jonny held on a little longer until the madman grabbed his coat, flipping him over his shoulder and slammed him hard to the floor. That's when he got his first good look at this attacker.

"You!!" he shouted, his demeanor becoming even more violent and less calculated.

Stanton punched downwards, aiming for Jonny's face. Jonny saw it coming and managed to roll out of the way in time. He leapt to his feet, facing his opponent, and waited at ready for the next move. He didn't keep him waiting. He lunged forward, landing a punch to Jonny's stomach before taking aim for his head. He ducked enough for the punch to fly wide, but didn't manage to get far enough away to be out of Stanton's reach. He grabbed his arms in a bruising grip and backed him hard into a wall. Jonny tried everything to break free, but it was no use. Stanton's grip was like a vice, getting tighter by the minute. Hadji, having sufficiently recovered his breath, jumped the madman from behind, intending to help his Brother get free. Stanton back fisted him in the face, sending him reeling against the hull of the ship again. With that free hand Stanton clamped down on Jonny throat, beginning to squeeze the life out of him, closing off his access to air. Jonny saw stars as the blood stopped reaching his brain. His lungs burned. He needed air. As his vision began to go black he made a desperate move. He struck upward with his palm, connecting with Stanton's chin. The choking grip fell away, a flash of oxygen filling Jonny's lungs, but the restraining grip remained. Enraged, Stanton threw him towards the door with all his might. Off balance, Jonny struck the door jab with his shoulder before landing in the snow bank outside.

"Jonny!" Jessie cried from somewhere to his right.

"Stay there, Jess!" he called back, more out of instinctual protection of her that from actually having thought up a reason.

Before he had time to even feel his latest injury, Stanton came barreling out of the door like some runaway steam engine. He aimed straight for Jonny. Sometime before racing out he had gotten his hands on an oar for one of the kayaks and now swung it high to strike young Quest dead. Before he could begin bringing it down a loud gunshot rang through the air, stopping Stanton dead in his tracks not two meters from his intended target. They both turned to see Jessie returning the butt of the shotgun to her shoulder and aiming at the madman. The hot barrel smoked in the cold winter air.

"You hurt him and, so help me God, I'll kill you." she ground in fierce determination. "Now, put the oar down and back off." Stanton made a step toward Jonny and another shot rang out. He felt the bullet streak by just inches from his face. He looked at her. It was as if she hadn't even moved. "That was a warning shot. The next one's in your head. I'll only say it once, put the oar down and back off." As Stanton slowly lowered the oar to the snow, Jessie hear a faint thumping sound. My heart, she thought. With this much adrenaline flowing no wonder I can hear it. The madman moved away from Jonny, towards the cliff's edge and Hadji appeared in the boat house's doorway, rubbing his sore jaw. The thumping sound got louder with each passing second. Realization dawned on Jessie. This wasn't the sound of her heart beating. A helicopter! As if in confirmation a Tomcat helicopter rose up over the cliff edge. The late afternoon light reflected through the cockpit glass, momentarily illuminating the pilot. The split second was enough for Jessie to identify him. Lorenzo! The Tomcat flew higher, revealing a rope ladder dangling from it's underbelly. Stanton immediately understood what was intended here and he took off at a run for the cliff. Lorenzo tipped the Tomcat forward to meet up with his passenger. Oh no you don't! Jessie raised the shotgun sight a few degrees and started firing off rounds at the Tomcat. She could hear every ping as her shots hit their target harmlessly. She continued to fire nonetheless.

Stanton leapt into the air, grabbing hold of the rope ladder, laughing maniacally at the three helpless teens below. He pointed at Jonny in particular. "You're dead, Quest!" he called down to him. "You're dead! I'll make sure of it!" and his laughter faded as the Tomcat moved farther away.

Seeing as they were now out of range Jessie turned to her friends. Jonny was just now getting to his feet, rubbing his shoulder, and Hadji was scowling at the disappearing dot of black that was the Tomcat as he went over to where Jonny stood. She joined them.

"You guys okay?" she asked.

"Nothing a couple hundred shots of novocaine won't fix." Jonny grumbled.

Hadji rubbed his jaw with a slight grin. "Agreed. A most painful situation."

Jessie smirked. "And I walk out bruise free."

"Girls have all the luck." Jonny quipped. Then he sighed, looking in the direction the Tomcat had disappeared in. "Well, that's another player on Surd's team we can be sure of. Three down... and whatever left to go."

"Given any other situation than this I would suggest alerting the authorities."

"But...?"

"But, seeing as we must keep this information from the public, I suggest we go reassure Mrs. Evans that this incident is over... for now."

"That sounds like a plan." Jonny grinned slightly as they walked back towards the house.

Jessie took his arm and he winced in visible pain. She backed off. "Oops! Sorry."

He waived her concern away with a small grin. They returned to the house, managed to convince Mrs. Evans that everything was back to as close as normal as anything got on the Quest Compound, and put the weapons away. The rest of the evening was quiet, the meal delicious but uneventful. Jessie would occasionally glance at her boyfriend during the meal, seeing him wince in pain from every sudden movement he made. But she respected his unspoken wish to keep his injuries as secret as possible. He later excused himself for the rest of the night and went upstairs to the bathroom.

Jonny started the shower, making the water as hot as he could stand, stripped of his clothes and stepped under the steady stream. He stuck his head under the flow, letting the hot water just flow over him, then let his head loll back as he slicked him hair away from his eyes. His muscles ached from the fight, a knot had formed in his neck and shoulders, bruises beginning to darken on his arms. But this liquid heat was slowly easing the pains away. He rubbed his own neck for a moment, trying to help the water ease the aches away. He was tired, the adrenaline finally leaving his system. He sighed heavily, closing his eyes. Much better, he thought with satisfaction. I could stay here for hours.

His eyes suddenly snapped opened and he stared at the opaque, dark blue shower curtain as if he could see right through it. I could've sworn I just heard the door open. He listened for a few moments more before finally shrugging and turning his face back into the stream of hot water. You're paranoid, ol' buddy.

He stood there for minutes more, letting the water flow over his shoulders and down his naked body, when he suddenly felt a pair of arms snake around his mid-section from behind him. He looked down at these arms and saw small hands, delicate hands, woman's hands, gliding across his chest. Jessie, he grinned. She pressed herself closer to him, placing her full, naked length completely in contact with his body. Her hands were flat against his chest, her cheek resting on the back of his shoulder. They stood there, quiet, enjoying the body contact they were sharing. He then looked at her contented features from over his shoulder.

"This could be dangerous when we try to leave." he told her.

"No, it won't." she sighed. "Hadji's locked himself off in his room, meditating to re-align his spirit or something like that, and Mrs. Evans left for home about ten minutes ago. No prying eyes, no listening ears."

"And you're loving every moment." he smirked.

She chuckled. "You know I am. Aren't you?"

"Did I say otherwise?"

"No."

"Then I am enjoying this as much as you are."

He felt her smile against his shoulder shortly before her face pressed against the back of his neck. Her hands began to trace circles against his chest, gradually moving lower to the flat washboard of his stomach. She blindly grazed the ridges of his hard muscles with her fingers. He felt his body unconsciously respond to her touch. He wondered if she knew what she was doing to him.

"Do you know what I want to do right now?" she breathed into his ear.

"No. Give me a clue?"

Her hands suddenly reached down and took his hardening member in a hand over hand grip. His breath caught in his throat in surprise, then he released it in a shuddering groan as her hands caressed his shaft.

"Enough of a clue for you?" she queried playfully.

He managed a smile. "Who's room?" His voice had become gruff in arousal.

"No. Here. Now."

"But..." He turned to her, looking into seductive green eyes. Her long red hair was slicked back, the color made darker from being wet. She looked as beautiful as ever. "This is dangerous, Jess. We don't have any--"

She placed a finger on his lips to silence him. "Taken care of in another way, Lover. Birth control. I made a special trip to the doctor's just for that a little over a month ago. Absolutely no danger." I hope, she added silently to herself, returning her hands to lavishing attention to his shaft.

He leaned back hard against the cool shower wall, his eyes momentarily closed. "You're sure?" he managed between quickening breaths.

"Totally." she replied, slowly kneeing before him, inter spacing small nips and kisses as she went. "Now, relax." and her mouth closed over his manhood, creating a gentle suction with each movement.

He gasped loudly in pleasant shock, his eyes shutting tight. She used her experience with him to drive him completely mad with ecstasy, kissing and licking at times, nibbling at others. She raised her eyes to his face and thrilled at the sight of his every excited reactions. He was biting his lower lip, his expression that of someone struggling for control. Jessie stood and kissed his lips. He returned the kiss with deep passion and used the opportunity to switch places with her and pin her back to the wall.

He looked at her, his blue eyes sparkling with a devilish light. "My turn." he breathed against her lips.

He gently gripped her wrists and pinned them to the wall before beginning. He nibbled his way down her throat, torturingly slow, moving ever lower. She sighed softly, letting her eyes close. His mouth closed over one of her nipples, teasing it into a tight bud. Jessie moaned softly as he moved from one breast to the other, sucking and nipping. Jonny moved lower to the flat of her smooth stomach, drinking in the water that clung to her ivory colored skin. He released her wrists when he got to the delicate triangle of auburn curls between her legs, gently easing her thighs apart with gentle hands. Biting her lower lip with a slight grin, Jessie propped her feet against the edge of the tub to help him reach her better. Then his tongue found her and she was completely lost.

"Oh,... God...!" came her strangled cry.

Her movements eluded her control and she writhed from his glorious ministrations. Just when she thought she could take no more his lips moved back to her breasts, then up her throat to her lips.

"Jonny..." she breathed against his lips, her tone pleading.

He kissed her deeply, smiling, as his hands slid down to grip the round mounds of her buttocks, suddenly supporting her weight. Then, with one quick thrust, he was in her completely. The feeling was incredibly intense. Months on end of love making he had always worn protection, but now... Flesh to flesh. Jessie moaned in ecstasy and he dropped his face to the crook of her neck.

"Haaaaa... Jessie..." he sighed as her hips began to move.

He matched the rhythm she had set with his own rocking, swallowing her cries before they came. Her legs wrapped tightly around his hips, her back still to the wall. She couldn't speak anymore, making only little throaty sounds, incoherent cries and moans. He moved faster, racing her to the edge as he felt himself nearing his own peak. Suddenly, he was there, and she was right there with him. She arched away from the wall, her legs tightening around his hips as she clung to him as if her life depended on it. Silken muscles tightened around his shaft rhythmically and his essence spilled into her in response. Then, it was over.

"Ohhhh... Slammin'..." she sighed with a small grin.

He suddenly looked at her in utter surprise before they both broke out into throes of laughter. "I love you." he breathed against her lips, then he kissed her long and deep.

"I love you." she replied when he released her from his embrace.

Her legs loosened from around him and they just stood there together, struggling for breath. Still holding her he used his foot to put the stopper in the drain, then he turned the shower off to fill the tub. It filled quickly, steam rising to envelop the young lovers. Jonny then shut the water off and looked at Jessie. She smiled softly, understanding. He pulled away, both immediately feeling the immense sense of loss. He sat at one end of the tub, with her in front of him between his legs, her back to his chest.

"IRIS, lights. Candlelight dim." he spoke to the room. Instantly the light dimmed to a soft glow. "How's that?" he questioned his girlfriend softly.

She snuggled back against him comfortably. "Very nice." she replied, softly as well. She took both his hands and pressed them to her heart with a small sigh, inadvertently causing him to wrap his arms around her naked form. "He didn't hurt you too much, did he?" she questioned worriedly.

He freed one of his hands and reached for the soft sponge not far away, using it to gently trickle water on her skin and tenderly sponge her arms and shoulders. "Nah, I'm just a little bruised." He crossed her chest with the sponge and she shivered pleasantly. "What is it?"

"Nothing. It's just... I had a dream about this once."

He grinned. "When?"

"Back when I was on one of Mom's digs... when we were having problems with our relationship..."

He closed his eyes, remembering the pain of their first major fight where they almost broke up. "I remember that." he murmured.

She turned her cheek to his chest in sympathy, she too feeling the same pain. "It was the night after our fight. I was sleeping and the dream about this just started. Except for the ending, it was identical."

He smirked playfully. "That's another dream that told the future. You becoming psychic or something?"

She chuckled. "Coincidence, that's all."

Jessie looked a his arm, at the bruise forming on his biceps and the old scars from adventures long since past. She touched them lightly, tears beginning to burn her eyes. How often she had come close to losing him before they had finally begun going out? She had lost track of the times. Each and every time he walked out of danger alive she had wanted to throw herself against him and hold him tight, to tell him how she truly felt about him, and never let go of him ever again. Now, if she lost him, she felt she would willingly die to join him in the hereafter. To never feel his arms hold her tight, to never hear the distinctive beat of his heart, to never hear his soft voice whispering tender words to her. She closed her eyes and the tears began to flow of their own accord.

Jonny watched her, silent. He saw the pained look in her eyes as she touched old an new manifestations of his adventures. He knew what she was thinking and he felt the same. With her hair slicked back as it was he could see her own scars, mementos left behind from incidents that seemed as far away as it was near. Cairo and the accident in downtown Rockport. He still hurt from those moments. She had come so close to dying both times. He couldn't even imaging his life now without her, without touching her soft skin or smelling the sweet scent of strawberries that permeated her skin and hair. He tightened his arms around her, closing his eyes tight, and kissed the top of her head.

Neither of them was willing to break the thick silence. They knew someday they would have to confront all this pain, but it was impossible right now.

"Maybe we should go to bed now." he suddenly voiced softly.

"Do we have to? I'm so comfortable here."

He grinned. "So am I, Jess, but it's your choice if you want to turn into a prune."

She giggled. "You have a point." and, taking only a moment to wrap themselves up in a couple of towels, they went to Jonny's room. It wasn't long after the door closed that they were back in each other's arms, tumbling together to the bed.

* * *

Doctor Benton Quest sat in his seat in the rear of a passenger Hydro-plane, his mind split on two very different problems. One part of his reason was busy coming up with possible viruses and cures for British Columbia's problem. Surd's files were a dangerous source of information in anyone's hands. He was familiar with his work in virology and genetics. According to the reports he now had in his lap, the schools were the source of the epidemic in British Columbia. And thanks to it's inaccessibility due to the mountains, the virus hadn't spread, wouldn't spread if ever it mutated into an airborne organism. That was the good news. The bad news was the mortality rate that had already incurred.

The other part was deeply perplexed by what his Son had partially admitted to him before he left Maine. Jonny had admitted that he and Jessie had slept together.

They had sex, Benton, admit it already, a voice scolded.

But what will that do? My Son and Jessie kept this a secret for months. Who knows how many times they slept-- had sex? another voice reasoned.

He sighed heavily and shook his head.

"Somethin' wrong, Benton?" a Texan voice asked not far at his side. Roger Race Bannon sat on the other side of the plane from him. He had noticed the sigh and the head shake.

"No, nothing's wrong. I was just thinking... It's something Jonny told me... No, it's nothing. How long until we reach Simoom Sound?" he opted, changing the subject.

"'Nother half hour or so. It'll be nice to see Marie again."

"Yes. I wonder how she's coping with the new life we handed her a few years back."

"I'm sure she fine. What I'm wonderin' is how the kids are doin' back home."

"Yes." was all the scientist answered.

"Okay, now you're really startin' to worry me. What did Jonny tell you?"

"A secret." he sighed heavily. "Something he and Jessie will discuss in greater detail with the both of us when we get back from all this."

"That bad?"

"I don't know yet."

With this last comment they both lapsed into a deep silence. The half hour passed quickly as the small plane wove between tall mountains, some of which were covered in vast ice fields. Then the Pacific Ocean with British Columbia's numerous inlets came into view. Taking a gentle turn the hydroplane came in for a smooth landing on Tribune Channel, pulling up to a wooden pier on Gilford Island. A number of people were on the pier waiting for them, one of them was Marie Métier. She gave them a grim smile as they disembarked from the plane.

"Doctor Quest, Race, welcome to Simoom Sound. I wish it had been under different circumstances."

"That's quite alright, Marie." Benton admonished with a small smile. "I'm just wondering why we weren't flown to Victoria or Vancouver."

"It's pandemonium in the cities right now. Most of those responsible for examining this virus agreed it was best to move out here, away from the riots and distractions."

"Smart thing." Race voiced from the side of the plane as he and some other men were unloading gear and equipment. "I just heard a dispatch from over the pilot's CB. Sounds like all Hell broke loose down there."

Benton pulled at his own hair gently. "Well, let's get to work then. The sooner we find a cure the sooner we can start looking for Surd."

Race remained behind to supervise the transportation of the equipment as Benton and Marie walked down the length of the pier into downtown Simoom Sound. "You found out who was behind all this?" she asked him.

"Through a simple process of elimination and a little help from IRIS."

"IRIS?"

"Our computer. We analyzed the tape Prime Minister Chrétien received and found it was Doctor Jeremiah Surd's form on the screen and his assistant, Julia, 's voice. Surd's mind is still trapped in a computer program during an incident a year or so ago. Heaven only knows what Julia is after to do all this."

"Is a cure possible?"

"Oh, very. I'm well versed in Surd's work. Reverse researching this virus won't take me very long. Then we have to stop the computer virus infecting the hospital systems before it spreads. That might take us longer."

"Everyone here is at your disposal, Doctor Quest."

* * *

Long, tedious hours had passed. On the color video display of a powerful electron microscope an organism divided and further subdivided, growing at a phenomenal rate. Doctor Benton Quest sat before this screen, watching this progression, with two other medical scientists taking notes.

"This is simply fascinating!" he breathed in awe. "The rate of mitosis of this bio-organism is remarkable. Very frightening. And, as we've seen from the tests we've performed, it needs oxygen to replicate itself, which makes it pretty obvious why it attacks the blood stream. This makes it hard to combat."

One of the scientists, a young man with deep brown hair, nodded in agreement. "How do you suffocate a virus without suffocating the host? It's impossible!"

Benton chuckled slightly. "Nothing is impossible. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, When one eliminates all the improbabilities of an event or happening, then what is left is the probable and possible. We simply have to go through the steps and eliminate each improbability. Break it's life cycle somehow."

A woman leaned over Benton's shoulder, pointing to a sub-screen showing the micro-organism's genetic make up, her long blond hair falling against his shoulder in the process. "This strand in its DNA ensures we can't alter it to help us. It almost looks self-regenerating..."

"Which makes it impossible to reprogram it as a hound virus to disable the rest of them because it would just fix itself." another viral-biologist stated, completing her thought. "And the fact that it takes any bodily fluid for a transmission to happen..."

"Releasing it into the schools was, I'd hate to admit it but, brilliant. It ensured transmission from the simple act of sneezing or coughing. Good thing we found which batch of pre-prepared meatloaf it was planted in. And look how it attacks the body. It leaches the O2 out of the blood, reproduces, then causes the body to burn out by creating too many white blood cells. Not to mention that red blood cell production is almost completely halted. That's why we originally thought it was another Hep C blood tainting we had on our hands."

"Megaloblastic hyperplasia." Benton muttered, agreeing with the first diagnostic. Given the same symptoms he would've thought this as well. Megaloblastic hyperplasia was a form of anemia, often confused with asthma for the sharp shortness of breath, often associated with various forms of leukemia.

"We started treating patients as if the had leukemia or any one of the Hep viruses, even began treatments for AIDS." the youngest continued. "But when those infected died after two to five days of infection, we knew we had something completely unknown on our hands. The death toll is already reaching the thousands."

"An insidious bug." the woman concluded.

"From insidious people." Benton added. "And all driven with the simple thought of revenge taken to a level beyond sanity. I'm almost relieved Jessie locked Surd's mind in Questworld."

The three viral-biologists looked at him, confused. "Locked?" the youngest queried.

"I'll explain later. Right now we have to find a way to stop this virus before it gets out of British Columbia."

* * *

"Can she really do this?" Kyle Merrick asked his companion in a hushed voice.

Francesca Hamilton huddled with him in the shadows at the edge of a tall fence. Both of them were completely dressed in white, from head to foot. Her long black hair was tied up in a tight bun under a white snow cap. Hands-free radio emitter/receivers were on their head. "She can do this." she assured.

"Are you sure she can do this?"

"Will you quit it already! If she says she can do this then she can do this."

"I'll believe that when I see it."

On the other side of the fence stood a number of concrete hangers, their windows completely dark. Kyle pulled out a pair of binoculars and peered at one hanger in particular. Pressed flush to the wall, moving with all the skill and stealth possible for a master thief, Katianna Souriskova made her way towards one of the guarded doors. Two men stood guard, burly soldiers with sharp eyes and ears. But still they didn't hear the thief. She now stood right behind them. Through the binoculars Kyle saw her reach into a small pouch at her waist and pull out something for each hand. Katianna then jabbed down hard on each guard's shoulder, near the neck, and they fell silently to the ground. She returned the objects to the pouch, picked the lock to the hanger, and slipped in without being seen.

"Okay, I'm in." came her voice over Kyle and Francesca's head gears.

Kyle was just too curious. "What was that stuff you used on them?"

Katianna seemed to chuckle. "A wonderful little sedative Basil whipped up just for me. He's such a sweet old man. Reminds me of my Father. They'll be out for three hours. Alright, inventory... There's one truck, but it's big enough to carry the rest of the stuff here. Automatic rifles, bazookas, grenade launchers, lots of ammo, ooo, land mines! I feel like a kid in a candy store. Give me twenty minutes to load the truck, then cause a distraction at my signal. I'll pick you up at the main gate."

"Now do you believe it?" she questioned with a slight grin. He grunted. Francesca looked around the area between herself and the hanger. There were no other guards in sight. "Twenty minutes. Gives us a chance to figure out just where to cause the distraction."

"I'll do that. You just distract the guards at the main gate to get it open."

"That's right, give me the easy job." she smirked.

He grinned, the first grin she had seen him give anyone since his arrival in British Columbia. "Nah, I just figured you'd have an easier time seducing those guards than I would."

She had to chuckle. "I can just imagine you trying to put the moves on those guys. You sure you don't want to try?" she teased.

"Don't even joke about that." A frown was on his face, but humor was in his voice.

She favored him with a sultry smile. "My, you're a touchy one."

"You wish."

"Yes, I do."

He faced her sharply in shock. "You sure don't waste any time."

She leaned in towards him, teasing. "Why waste time when we have so little to begin with?" she questioned coyly.

Her warm, sweet breath caressed his lips as she spoke softly. He found he couldn't tear his eyes away from hers. They were such an enticing violet color. Seduction was most definitely her game. A voice from his head set suddenly broke through his thoughts, snapping his attention back to the task at hand.

"The truck's loaded. You two better get ready with that distraction."

Kyle rolled away from Francesca. He hated being caught off guard. "Uhh... right. We're on it." He grabbed the grenade launcher lying in the snow next to him and they both made a dash for the installation's main gate. Two guards stood there. "I believe this is your department, 'Cesca." he told her, indicating the guards.

"Too kind, Kyle." she grinned.

She tossed him her cap and head set, letting her long hair fall out of its bun, unzipped the front of her outfit to reveal a good amount of cleavage, then stood and began to sashay towards the two guards. The didn't take notice of her until she stood within the light of the guard post. They immediately leveled their automatic rifles at her.

"Halt! State your name and business." one of them challenged.

"Really, gentlemen, do I look like a threat to you?" Francesca cooed.

"What are you doing here?" the other demanded.

She favored them both with her most seductive smile, casually throwing her hair over her shoulder. "My car broke down just up the road and I was wondering if you two strong, handsome men could help me with it?" and she pouted slightly. "Or at least keep me warm while I wait for a tow truck?"

The two guards looked at each other, lost for a moment, then approached her. It was all the opening Kyle needed to slip behind them through the gate and onto the base. They were too busy gawking at Francesca to notice him. He didn't worry about Francesca. She could handle these two. He had a distraction to cause. He rushed to the edge of one of the hangers, set up the grenade launcher, and loaded it. He took aim at another hanger far enough away and fired. A split second later there was a loud explosion and then a second explosion completely engulfed the hanger.

"Kat, there's your distraction!" he called into his microphone. "Let's go!" and he began to run back to the gate.

There came a loud crash behind him. He risked a glance and saw a large transport truck barreling for the main gate as well. As it raced by he grabbed hold of the back end and swung himself into the back of it. They passed the guard post at the gate. Kyle saw the two bodies of the guards sprawled out in the snow and from around a corner ran Francesca. In the distance he could see more guards coming towards them, firing off rounds as they ran.

"Don't stop!" she called out just as Kyle was about to signal Katianna to stop.

He watched her run for what seemed like hours. Something deep inside what was left of his soul told him he couldn't leave her like this. Then, before he knew it, he suddenly braced himself on the back ramp of the truck and reach a hand out to her as far as he could reach.

"C'mon!" he yelled to her.

She looked up and her violet eyes locked with his clear grey eyes. The simple act of holding a hand out to her seemed to give her a new strength and a great burst of speed. She got closer to the truck and reached out her hand towards his. He strained his reach, but it still wasn't enough.

"Jump!"

She took three strides and leapt into the air towards him. His hand closed around her wrist and he gave a sharp tug, pulling her towards the truck. He must have pulled a little to hard. The next thing he knew he was sprawled on his back with her tiny form on top of his chest. A few well placed shots took out chunks of the back of the truck. Kyle wrapped his arms tightly around Francesca to cover her head and to protect her from the flying debris. Moments later they were finally out of range. He loosened his arms from around her and looked out the back of the truck. The lights from the base were fading in the distance and the shapes that were the guards were no longer visible at all. They had escaped.

"You can get off me now." he told her.

Francesca looked down at him and grinned playfully. "Now why would I want to do a thing like that?"

"'Cause maybe I want to get up?" His tone was sarcastic.

She gave him a small, irresistible pout. "Usually, when a beautiful girl comes on to a handsome guy that guy is more that happy to reciprocate."

"So?"

She brought her face closer to his, dangerously close. His eyes went wide in slight shock. "So, reciprocate." she breathed seductively.

He could only stare back as he felt her lips brush against his. He held her shoulders to restrain her. "'Cesca, I--"

"Shh, Kyle." and she claimed his lips deeply.

He just lay there, too shocked to move or push her away. Not that he wanted to. Her lips felt like silk and she most definitely knew how to make his blood boil. Before Kyle knew it he was returning the embrace.

"Merrick, Hamilton, get up here!" came the urgent request in Kyle's ear piece.

Francesca pulled back just enough to allow Kyle to level his microphone to talk into it, but so they could still easily reach each other's lips. "What's up, Kat?" He kept his eyes locked with Francesca's smiling eyes as he spoke.

"There's a roadblock up ahead. I think it's one of those Operation: Nez Rouge deals."

He pushed Francesca back so he could sit up quickly. She saw the look of worry on his face. "Cops?" he asked the driver.

"Yeah, lots of them. They might find it a little fishy if they find you guys back there. Get up here, quick."

"Be right there." He moved the microphone away and looked at Francesca, a small grin tugging the corners of his lips. "This'll have to wait 'til later, 'Cesca."

She smiled, pouting, as she leaned towards him. "Then this will have to tide you over until then." and she kissed him deeply.

His hand found the back of her head and held her close, deepening the embrace to its fullest. Then he pulled back with a reluctant sigh. "Later, my lovely." he breathed loud enough for her to hear.

She grinned seductively in return and they moved to the from of the trunk, managing to swing themselves into the cab of the vehicle. After crossing this upcoming obstacle it was a clear road back to their base of operations.

* * *

Hadji Singh sighed blissfully in the deep silence the permeated the Lighthouse Lab. It was still fairly early in the morning, Friday, and Jessie and Jonny had left some time before for school. Until they returned later that day Hadji decided he would check the computer systems and the progress of their earlier search. He looked to that screen. IRIS had split the screen in two and was matching names and aliases with recent break-outs and plane passenger lists. Still a few days left until that search was done. He turned back to the system before him and quickly entered in a series of commands. Nothing showed up to be out of the ordinary on a surface scan of the programs. Then he dug a little deeper.

GLITCH.

Hello? What is this? he wondered with a deep frown. Try as he might, he couldn't pin point the error he came upon. He leaned back. Wonder, wonder, wonder. What a little mystery. He wondered for a few minutes, curious, intrigued. How was he going to find out what this problem was?

* * *

Julia dove straight into the equipment Katianna, Kyle, and Francesca had brought. She rummaged through crates and cases, all the while giving little triumphant squeals. "Milani, Bela, Erma, take this equipment and assemble it according to the specs I gave you. I want this up and running ASAP." she ordered. This was when she turned to the newly returned trio. "You did well." and she walked away.

* * *

Hadji was still staring at the screen, puzzled. "IRIS, what is the nature of this system's anomaly?"

"UNKNOWN. ANOMALY DOES NOT CONFORM TO ANY KNOWN FILE TYPE." the computer replied.

"IRIS, instead of trying to find an exact match, do any of the anomaly's components match any file type on record?"

"AFFIRMATIVE. COMPONENTS MATCHING THOSE CREATED BY DOCTOR JEREMIAH SURD."

He bristled at this. "Oh dear. IRIS, what are these components and what is the purpose of the anomaly?"

"ANOMALY CONTAINS COMPONENTS SIMILAR TO THAT OF SEARCH ENGINES. TARGET OF SEARCH IS QUESTWORLD PROGRAMS AND DATA BANKS. NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION TO DETERMINE EXACT PURPOSE OF ANOMALY."

"Extrapolate and theorize."

"PURPOSE OF ANOMALY TO SEEK SPECIFIC BRAIN WAVE IN QUESTWORLD DATA BANKS FOR RETRIEVAL AND LATER RESTORATION."

A light flashed brightly in his mind. Brain wave? Questworld? SURD!! "Has this search engine found and retrieved the brain wave yet?"

"UNABLE TO DETERMINE."

"Oh dear. IRIS, prepare for independent log on. Subject: Hadji Singh."

"ILL ADVISED. LOG ON REQUIRES MINIMUM TWO INDIVIDUALS."

"Override. No time. Prepare for log on."

"ACKNOWLEDGED."

* * *

"The equipment's ready, Julia." Ethyl Erma announced. "The hound program we sent is already in your target system. We just have to follow it in. Question is who are you sending in? We have to stay out here to monitor and counter act anything we might not have foreseen."

"Wait a minute!" Kyle Merrick interjected. "What system?"

Julia frowned in clear disgusts at the name she was about to say. "Questworld."

"Questworld? As in the Quests?" Julia nodded. "Oh, I'm in there! Log me in."

"Not without me you're not." Francesca shot at Kyle with a knowing grin.

Julia barely even glanced at them. "Do it. Now!"

* * *

The digital representation of Hadji Singh stood on a neon red information grid. This was the fourth Questworld program he had accessed and still no sign of the anomaly. "IRIS, initiate Questworld program QE-1."

"INITIATING"

QE-1 was an old program Doctor Quest had created, Hadji knew that much. What he couldn't quite remember was the purpose of this particular program. There were so many. The scenery around him suddenly shifted to total darkness with only the dimmest glimmer of light to see by. There were no features to this place, nothing to look at. Hadji was about to go to another program when a thought he saw a form in the distance. He moved closer, curious.

"Ah, Mister Singh! Come to pay me a visit after so many years?" came a sarcastic computer generated voice from the form.

Hadji froze. "Doctor Surd?"

"So happy you didn't forget me. What brings you to my dreary little Hell?"

"Nothing. Just making sure you are still where Jessie left you."

"Yes, lovely Miss Bannon. How is she and young Mister Quest? I do so miss the battles we've had in the past. She was very good, you know, locking me in this state even in Questworld. A true master."

"I do not have time for this, Surd."

"Oh, but you should make time." came a new voice from behind him.

Hadji spun around just in time to receive a fist to his jaw. He staggered back, sprawling to the floor. He rubbed his jaw when he recovered, getting back to his feet, only to find himself facing the two people he never thought he would ever see in Questworld. Kyle Merrick and Francesca Hamilton. He took a step back, suddenly afraid for his life.

"Thank you for finding him for us, Hadji." Francesca cooed. "Made our job so much easier."

Kyle began to advance on Hadji as Francesca turned her attention to the immobile Surd. This one's eyes flashed to her and Kyle in rapid succession, a slight frown on his face. "Who are you?" he demanded.

She smiled sweetly. "Your saviors. Julia sent us." She cocked her head towards the virtual sky. "Milani, I have him. Begin download." Surd's body began to shimmer, then gradually faded from sight. Francesca then turned in time to see Kyle giving a severe beating to a visibly outmatched Hadji.

Kyle was clearly enjoying his superiority. He had long ago survived the training offered at a secret complex in Brazil after he and his Sister had been kidnapped. And he had excelled in this training. He now knew twenty different ways of killing a man without leaving a trace. Then he had survived several years at Riker's Maximum State Prison in New York. Fighting knowledge wise, Hadji was in serious trouble.

"Kyle!" she called, catching his attention before he could throw another punch. "We have what we came for. Let's go."

He looked at her, then down at Hadji's huddled form trying to recover from the virtual beating. Kyle grabbed him by the throat, lifting him up to glare in his face. "A message for your friends, Sultan." he sneered. "Fight or everyone they've ever known dies." He threw him back on the ground and came to stand next to Francesca. "Julia, log us out of Questworld. We're done here." he grinned.

Hadji could only watch helplessly as the duo shimmered out of existence. He staggered to his feet, the pain almost too much to bare. "IRIS, activate all firewalls and intruder protectors to Questworld and subsystems. Restrict access to data base and programs to myself, Jonny Quest, and Jessie Bannon. Retina scan only." Mentally he kicked himself for not having done this before.

"RESTRICTIONS ACTIVE."

"Log me out of Questworld."

"HADJI SINGH LOGGING OUT IN THREE... TWO... ONE."

There was a blinding flash and Hadji suddenly found himself sitting in one of the control chairs. He ached from the virtual beating he had received. Even though Questworld was a world existing in Virtual Reality one could still feel and respond to sensations one got in that world. If one fell, one would develop the bruise as a result of that fall. Therefore, all of the injuries Hadji had received in Questworld were real in every sense of the word. He reached up a bruised limb and took off the visor from his eyes. Shutting down the Lab he managed to stagger out into the cold afternoon air. It felt good on his injuries, soothing. Entering the house he avoided Mrs. Evans and headed straight for his bedroom, collapsing on his bed. He was about to enter a deep state of meditation when his phone rang.

"Hello?" he answered tiredly.

"Guess who?" came a woman's voice from the other end.

He smiled. "Kefira!" Kefira Subramanian was Hadji's fiancé, an incredible woman in both looks and intelligence. He had met her almost a year back and had fallen in love with her strength of will. "How are you?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing. I'm fine, just missing you terribly. And you, how are you? You sound so tired."

"And feeling better with each passing moment we speak. It is nothing, a little encounter in Questworld I was unprepared for."

Her voice took on an edge of worry. "Are you alright?"

"A little bruised, but I am fine."

"You are sure?"

He chuckled softly. "Yes, my beloved. So, what have you been doing during my absence? It must be so late into the night for you right now."

"It is, but I had a longing to hear your voice. Your Mother has been teaching me to be, and I quote, "The proper wife for a Sultan". She has been busy teaching me etiquette and the ways of the Royal Court. I had no idea there was so much to learn. How and where to stand, the different bows for each diplomat. I have hardly had time to continue my own studies."

"Having second thoughts about becoming my wife?" he teased.

She laughed, a delicate sound that warmed his soul. "No, I want to be your wife, Beloved. I just never realized it would be so much work."

"Mother makes it so for you to test you. You will be happy to know you are passing this test. She has now begun speaking of an heir."

"Will you tell her of our wish to take this slow?"

"I will, not to worry."

"One last question for you before I let get some rest. Neela has spoken to me of the Children of the Dragon only once and with very scant details. Who are they?"

"A clan I concluded a peace treaty with some two years ago. They are a strange people who live in the surrounding mountains of Bangalore. When I return I promise to introduce you to them. It is only fair they meet their future Queen, no?"

"Then I await your return anxiously, as always. I really hate to have to say goodbye right now."

"We both know we need to rest now. I to recover and you to prepare for Mother's next test. We will speak again soon."

"Until then, goodbye, My Beloved Sultan."

He smiled almost sadly. "Goodbye and goodnight, sweet Kefira." After a few seconds there was a clicking sound at the other end as the connection was broken. Hadji sighed heavily, hung up his phone, and drifted off into a deep meditative state.

* * *

Doctor Jeremiah Surd opened his eyes, blinking from suddenly real pain from real light. He still couldn't move. Slowly he took in his surroundings.

Reality!

"The transfer was successful." came a woman's voice from off to his left.

"His wheelchair's life support system is fully functional." came another voice, a young man's.

Surd followed the sounds all around him to their sources. Machines, people. Lots of people. "Julia?"

She came into sight. "Welcome back, Jeremiah." she cooed.

"What's going on?"

She smiled. "A little scheme in your honor, Jeremiah. Thanks to your files and research we now hold all of Canada hostage."

His eyes widened slightly. "Well done, Julia." His tone of voice was pleased. Surd looked at the grouping of people gathered around him, specifically to the two teens extracting themselves from the virtual reality equipment. "Who are these two who retrieved my mind from the Quest's data base?"

"Mercenaries, now under your orders, Jeremiah. Kyle Merrick and Francesca Hamilton. Both have already gone up against the Quests. They have experience with them we lack. All of these people have had run ins with the Quests. Their experiences are invaluable to us."

"You've been busy during my absence. Well done. Now, explain your plan. I'm anxious to hear what kind of mayhem you've caused here."

* * *

"... and we have a security perimeter set up by the RCMP at a one kilometer radius, Mister Bannon." a uniformed RCMP Sargent informed.

Race Bannon looked over the information on a clip board. He had to admit, the Canadian Military and Royal Canadian Mounted Police knew what they were doing when it came to providing security. Check points, a secure perimeter, patrolling soldiers in camouflaged gear. Everything was up to his standards of security for this type of situation. He handed the clip board back to the Sargent with a crisp nod.

"Good. Keep me posted on anythin' new."

"Yes, Sir." and he walked away.

Race stood alone now, just at the beginning to the wooden pier. Except for the mild weather his senses were almost fooled into thinking this was Maine. But he knew if he turned around he would see the high, imposing peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Behind him was also one of the secluded laboratories where Canada's finest biologists, computer programmers, and Doctor Benton Quest were busy at work. And Marie.

"Enjoying the view, Race?" came Marie Métier's voice, breaking through his thoughts.

He turned to see her approaching him from the main lab building. He smiled and made a non-committal sound at the back of his throat in response to her question.

"Where they at?" he asked, indicating the lab with a jerk of his chin.

"Doctor Quest feels they're on the right road. He just finished putting in a requisition for medical chimpanzees for some tests. Keep your fingers crossed."

"I'm bein' morbidly optimistic here, but I'm kind of glad Julia didn't launch this bug on the West Coast. Would've infected Jessie an' Jonny. Don't know what any of us would've done had that happened."

A puzzled frown crossed her features as she brushed her wind blown black hair away from her face. "Who is Jessie?"

"Jessie's my Daughter."

"You never told me you had a Daughter?"

"We, uh, didn't actually do much talkin' back then." Race grinned sheepishly. He then pulled out his wallet from his back pocket, pulled out a photograph, and handed it to Marie. "There she is, my Ponchita."

Marie took the image and took a good long look. Jessie was at the center of the image, sitting across Jonny's lap. Both were smiling and seemed completely at ease with each other, their arms wrapped around each other.

"She's lovely. When was this picture taken?"

"'Bout a week ago."

She nodded thoughtfully. "Jonny has grown into a fine looking young man. Your Daughter seems to be quite close to him."

"They should be. They've been goin' steady for a little over two years now."

She looked up from the image, surprised. "Really?"

"Yeah. You should see 'em. Can't pull 'em apart for more than a second." He sighed wistfully. "Kind of makes me worried I'll someday hear they took the next step."

Marie smiled reassuringly. "I know Jonny's a bright boy. And Jessie is your Daughter after all. I'm sure they won't do anything stupid. Will I get to meet her someday?"

"Oh, sure. Soon as they finish their exams, they're flying down with Hadji to join us. You know Jonny, can't stay away from the action for very long. They should be here in a little over a week."

* * *

Jessie stood in her gym uniform of red shorts and a white T-shirt, shifting from one foot to the other in readiness. In front of her stood Jonny, dressed the same way and wearing thick sparring mats on his arms. It had been his idea to get her in the gym to do this. She was still weak from her seven month coma and she needed to strengthen her muscles and limbs, learn how to fight all over again. He wanted her to be as strong as she had ever been to make her happy. He had seen how miserable she was when left behind during dangerous missions, and how annoyed she was when someone tried to fight for her.

"Okay, you ready, Jess?"

"Only if you are, Lover." She grinned playfully. "I'm going to mop the floor with you."

He smiled. "We'll see, Love. Just regular kick-boxing, don't strain yourself. And... go!"

She threw kick after kick, punch after punch, the gym filling with the sound of each move connecting with a sharp slap. He encouraged her on, pleased at her quick progress. This went on for nearly half an hour. She suddenly threw a high kick, followed by an attempt at a round-house kick. She cried out in pain and dropped unceremoniously to the ground, holding her hip. Jonny quickly threw the pads to the ground and came to her side, his hands on hers in worry.

"Oh, God!" she groaned in pain.

"Take it easy, lie still." he told her. He rolled her to her back and carefully eased her legs straight, keeping one hand at the joint of her hip. Her eyes were shut tight, pained tears already streaming from their corners freely. "You strained a muscle."

"Tell me something new." she gritted.

Carefully he eased her knee towards her chest, then straightened her leg in the air. She winced and he lowered her leg back to the ground. He did this to her several more times before she finally sat up.

"You okay?" his voice still laced with worry as he held her knee.

"Now, yes. God, that hurt." She brought her knee to her chest, testing her hip joint, then smiled at him. "Thanks."

He grinned playfully as he slid his hand from her knee down to the inside of her thigh. "Got to keep these gorgeous legs strong and in shape."

She returned the grin as she turned to completely face him. "Any particular reason why?" she cooed.

He leaned in towards her until their lips just brushed. "You got two pretty good reasons last night." and he claimed her lips before helping her back to her feet.

"Any other reason?" she asked coyly. As strange look passed over his face as he looked at her. She couldn't read his expression and it shocked her. "What?"

"Nothing." he dismissed quickly.

"No, really. Something's bothering you. What is it?"

He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it in second thought. He gently touched her cheek, cupping her face with one hand. Then, "Ask me that again sometime, Jess."

Inside she frowned, puzzled. "Okay." was all she answered.

"You have a class next?"

"Yeah, Chemistry. Just review, but I want to be there in case there's anything different he might stick on the exam. It's my last class of the day."

"Same with me for Physics. Mr. Niles has a nasty habit of doing that, sticking stuff he didn't teach us on the exam, or so I hear. Your leg going to be okay for the rest of the day?"

"I think so. If it gets painful I can always grab some Tylenol."

Worry etched his features. "You're sure?"

She smiled and tasted his lips ever so softly. "I'm sure. Eighty minutes and I'll be able to show you just how sure." she breathed.

"Too long." he grinned.

"But at least then we'll be away from prying eyes." she replied playfully.

He chuckled. "And now that you've told me this I won't be able to concentrate on Physics."

She had to laugh. "No, you'll probably be too busy dreaming up a few Laws of Physics of your own and then breaking the rest."

He laughed softly. "Definitely. And we'll try them out later. Go on. We each have a class to go to. See you at your locker later?"

"You bet."

She kissed him again before leaving for the girls' locker room. She quickly showered, dressed in her blue jeans, off white button up shirt, and a white sweater, and jogged off to her class. Her Chemistry lab partner, Crysta Robertson, was already sitting in the class as Jessie walked in. No one else was in the class yet. Crysta was in flashy wear, as usual. A metallic purple cat suit with bright yellow scarves, one in her hair, the other around her waist.

"Hey, Chica!" Crysta greeted in a light Hispanic accent. "You just come from the pool or something?"

Jessie sat next to her friend, slicking her wet hair out of her face. "No, the gym. I had a pretty intensive work-out."

Crysta smirked slyly, beginning to French braid Jessie's hair. "Oh, really? Was a certain Jonny Quest involved in this work-out?"

"Go away! We wouldn't do anything like in school."

"Had to ask. How're you feeling anyway?"

"Not bad considering everything I went through... and I think things are about to get worse."

Crysta heard the hate in her friend's voice and looked towards the door. A tall, brunette girl walked in, an air of superiority and aristocracy surrounding her. This was Ktrisha Aubry, one of Maya Vernessa many followers and so-called friends, a runner up to Home Coming Queen of Rockport High School for four years running. She shot a cold stare at Jessie in particular before sitting at a desk across the room from her. Her slinky shirt showed off every curve and her miniskirt was purposefully cut to show off as much leg as possible. Ktrisha, like Maya before her, hated Jessie with a passion for the simple fact that Jessie was going steady with Jonny. The, also, Miss Universe wannabe had chased after him ever since their first year of High School, but he had rejected her advances each and every time, eventually working up his courage to ask Jessie to go out with him. Like Maya, Ktrisha held Jessie responsible. No man ever said no to Ktrisha or Maya, until Jonny.

"'Tis a foul air and a ever more foul mood that hath entered this room." Crysta quipped, hoping for levity in this situation.

"You stay out of this, freak!" Ktrish snapped at Crysta.

"Watch it, boob job!" she shot back.

Jessie gripped her friend's arm to restrain her. "Crysta, cool it! She's not worth it."

"Jonny doesn't think so." Ktrisha sneered.

"Right, like he ever gave you a second glance."

"That's not what he told me last night."

Jessie laughed outright. Crysta caught on to why as Ktrisha just scowled at them. "That would've been kind of hard considering..." Jessie managed before breaking out into throes of uncontrolled laughter.

"Considering what?" Aubry demanded.

Jessie regained enough composure to stand and walk to the front of Ktrisha's desk, leaning towards her menacingly. "Considering he was in his bed all of last night. And how can I be sure of that? Because I was there and completely tired him out."

Crysta had the hardest time reigning in her laughter at the totally shocked look Ktrisha had etched across her face as Jessie walked back to her seat. The shock gave way to a scowl of pure hate just as the fiery redhead sat.

"Hey, Jess." came a familiar voice at the door.

All three turned to see Jonny rushing into the room towards her. Ktrisha, in the hopes of catching his attention, immediately stood to make herself more visible and tried to stand in front of Jessie. He went around her without so much as a glance. He greeted Jessie by tenderly claiming her lips.

"I only have a few minutes. Two things. One, Elaine had gym next and found your watch in the locker room." and he handed it to her.

"Oh, God! I didn't even notice!"

He grinned. "You had other things on your mind."

She giggled. "That I did. What was the other thing you came here for?"

"I forgot to tell you something when you left the gym."

She was intrigued. "Really? What?"

He leaned in towards her, pinning her to her chair, and gave her his trademark lopsided grin. "I love you."

She smiled ever so sweetly. "I love you." she replied. "I also have something to tell you."

"What's that?" he grinned.

"Last night..."

He was still grinning. "What about it?"

"Incredible." she breathed.

Jonny gave a slight pout. "Isn't every night?"

"Yes, but especially last night."

"Wait until tonight." he breathed against her lips, kissed her sweetly, and left at a run to reach his class before the bell rang.

The class went by slowly as Chemistry notes and formulas were reviewed one last time. Jessie didn't have to pay too much attention to what was being said. Basically there wasn't going to be any new material on the mid-term exam. She would ace this test like she did with all her others throughout the first half of the year.

Across the class from her Ktrisha kept shooting daggers from her eyes at Jessie. She was an obstacle to her, a wall to destroy to get to the prize, Jonny Quest. But she wouldn't make the same mistake as Maya had when she had tried to eliminate Jessie this time last year. She had made the mistake of hiring an incompetent. Ktrisha she would do one this herself, somehow.

A loud peel of a bell signaled the end of the class and Jessie quickly exited the class to get to her locker. Crysta was close behind, her locker being next to Jessie's. Turning a corner they saw someone leaning against it, seemingly waiting for them. He was wearing a sports jacket emblazoned with the school colors and logo. Jessie immediately recognized him and stopped with an annoyed groan. Craig Waller, a rich young man belonging to the school's football team who just couldn't seem to understand that she was unavailable to him.

"What's today, pick on Jessie day?" she sighed.

Crysta snickered. "I'll take him off your hands, Chica."

"Oh, I'm sure Todd would like that. No, I'll deal with him... again." She took a deep, bracing breath and walked forward towards her locker. Craig straightened and smiled at her. "Wipe it off your face, Craig, it ain't gonna to happened."

The smile faded. He looked at her in pleading dejection. "Aw, c'mon, Jessica. I mean, what does he have that I don't?"

She never faced him, her expression blank as she filled her book bag. "Well, for one, he had the decency not to over presume his worth to the world." Crysta snorted as she tried not to laugh. "And, unlike you, he gave me time."

"I gave you a lot more than just time, Ace." came a playful voice from behind her.

Jessie turned with a smile, instinctively finding her lover's arms and pressing herself to his chest. Jonny held her tight, breathing a soft sigh against her neck.

"Told you eighty minutes was too long."

She chuckled and pulled back to look into his face. "So how many Laws did you dream up?"

"Too many for one night." he grinned.

Crysta began to laugh, mostly from Craig's stunned expression. "Face it, Super Jock. Ain't no way you're ever breaking these two up."

Jonny bowed to her with a flourish. "Thank you, dear Lady."

"Most welcome, Lord Jean."

He straightened with a smile. "Still can't get over that, can you?"

"Don't think anyone completely recovers from seeing ghosts, Blondie. 'Specially when you're facing their living doubles."

"In every sense of the word." Jessie grinned.

Jonny looked at her. "What? You planning to drown me in a pond?"

She smirked. "Only if I can have you stuffed and mounted on my bed after." she quipped.

He chuckled. "Ah! So that's why you keep me around."

"That, and another reason."

"Which I'm sure you'll tell me."

"Of course, but I'll do much more than tell you." she replied, gathering the rest of her stuff from her locker, then closing it. She turned to him with a broad grin. "Ready."

"Hey, can I get a lift?" Crysta suddenly asked. "Don't really feel like trudging the six blocks to my place in the snow."

Jonny slung an arm around both Jessie's and Crysta's shoulders. "Sure." he grinned. "See ya, Craig." he said to the still stunned Craig Waller as the three of them walked away. They left him standing there as they walked out of the school towards the student parking lot. They piled into a black Viper GTX, Jonny driving and Crysta in the back seat, and drove off for the outskirts of Rockport, Maine. They dropped Crysta off at an elegant little house of a Colonial feel, then began to drive off to the Quest Compound. Jonny suddenly grinned. "Let me guess, earlier, Craig wanted you to break off with me and go with him, right?"

She chuckled. "Right. I told him, not in so many words mind you, that there was no way that was going to happen. And that's when you walked in."

"So that makes how many times he's asked you that?"

"Today? Twelve times."

"Today!? There's been other times?"

"He asked about as many times everyday since school started again, last year, the year before that, and the year before that."

"God! He just doesn't give up."

"He's like a persistent little puppy hungry for attention."

"Oh, he's hungry alright, but it's not for attention."

She leaned on his shoulder, her hand gently gripping his thigh. "There's only one person who has that kind of attention." she purred lovingly in his ear.

His knuckles began to whiten as he tightened his grip on the wheel. "Quick, find me someplace to park." he gasped with a sly grin.

Jessie giggled, snuggling closer to his side. "Not until we get home, Lover. I still have to show you those little treasures I found at the store yesterday."

He chuckled as he stopped the car at a red light. "I can't wait to see you wear those."

"Who says I'm not already?" she cooed seductively.

He faced her sharply, in surprise. Then his eyes drank her in, his lopsided grin appearing on his lips. He cupped her face ever so tenderly, gliding his thumb over her lips before claiming them deeply. She held him close, returning the embrace to its fullest, both losing themselves in the feeling. A sudden, loud car horn blast from behind surprised them apart. The light was green again. The young couple laughed and Jonny began driving again.

He suddenly grinned from a thought. "Like Crysta loves to say about us, We've got it really bad."

Jessie laughed. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing."

"Oh, of course not!" he agreed.

He pulled off the main road out of Rockport onto the Quest Compound's long private driveway. They pulled up to the house, disembarked, and quickly ran to the warmth of the house. They were met in the hallway by an anxious looking Mrs. Evans.

Jonny looked slightly puzzled. "What is it, Mrs. Evans?"

"Hadji's been in his room since this morning. He came in from the lab looking very tired, like someone beat him up."

Jessie and Jonny looked at each other, confused, then headed for Hadji's room upstairs. "Jonny, the only way Hadji could be as Mrs. Evans described was if he logged into Questworld and had a bad encounter."

"But he would never do an independent log on. That's our cardinal rule." They got to the door and peered in. Hadji was stretched out on his bed, his arm hiding his face. "Hadj?"

"He is free." was all the young Sultan replied.

"Who? Who's free?" Jessie questioned, coming to sit next to him.

"Surd."

Jonny bristled. "What? How?"

"Kyle Merrick and Francesca Hamilton." he breathed tiredly. His arm fell away to revealing bruises swelling around his eyes and other welts on his face.

Jessie gasped. "Oh, Hadji!"

Hadji sat up with a tight smile, waving off her concern. "It is not as bad as it looks."

"Jess, go get him a wet towel and some Tylenol, okay?" and Jessie quickly left. Jonny sat next to Hadji and looked over his injuries. "Never thought you would be the one to break our Questworld rule. Merrick did this to you, didn't he?"

"Yes, and he issued you a challenge."

He sighed heavily. "Kind of glad I sent Jess out then. What does he want?"

"For you to log into Questworld and fight him or he will kill all of us."

"Doesn't leave me much of a choice, does it? I have to do it."

"But he has Doctor Surd helping him now. He will not fight fair."

"When has he ever, Hadj? Tell me that. If I don't do this then he'll go after you, Dad, Race and... Jessie. I won't risk any of your lives, and I certainly won't risk Jessie's, just to call his bluff. When she comes back in, tell her nothing."

They immediate fell silent when they heard Jessie returning. She stopped suddenly at the door, shocked by the silence. "Geez, you'd think I walked into a secret planning session." she quipped, going to the other side of the bed. Carefully she dabbed at Hadji's injuries with the wet cloth. "They really did a number on you."

"Well, you get to take care of him, Florence of Nightingale. I'm going to go check the system for any surprises they might have left." and, after casting a knowing glance at Hadji, Jonny left for the Lighthouse computer lab.

Once there he locked the door. He turned to one of the consoles and began typing in commands. All of them were blocked by IRIS.

"ACCESS DENIED. RETINA SCAN NEEDED FOR PROPER SECURITY CLEARANCE."

With a slightly frustrated sigh Jonny put on one of the Questworld visors, activating it was a quick key stroke. "IRIS. Ret me." he told the powerful computer. There was a red flash before his eyes at his command.

"IDENTITY CONFIRMED AS JONATHAN BENTON QUEST. ACCESS TO QUESTWORLD SYSTEMS GRANTED. COMMAND?"

"Prepare for independent Questworld log on."

"ILL ADVISED. LOG ON REQUIRES MINIMUM TWO INDIVIDUALS."

"Override. Activate Questworld voice commands, recognize voice print."

"VOICE COMMANDS ACTIVE. JONATHAN BENTON QUEST VOICE PRINT ACTIVE."

He sat in one of the command chairs, mentally prepared for the virtual battle. "Questworld: Log on. Subject: Jonny Quest. Going hot!"

"LOG ON IN THREE... TWO... ONE..."

"You're mine, Merrick." he ground quietly just as the program started up.

* * *

"Ladies and gentlemen! The computer captain would like to announce that we have a log on!" Ted Milani suddenly yelled out to the room.

Julia came up behind his shoulder, peering intently at the gibberish on the screen. "Where?" she demanded.

"Maine... That Quest Compound you keep talking about... One subject... The Quest kid!"

"What is he doing?"

"Answering my challenge." Kyle Merrick answered coolly as he hooked himself up to the virtual reality equipment. "Log me in. I have business to take care of."

"Make this fast, Merrick." Surd interjected. "We have more pressing matters that require our attention."

Kyle smiled confidently. "He doesn't stand a chance against me."

"Yes, I thought that too, about him and the others. But look what happened to me when I became over confident of my abilities." and he wheeled away towards another console across the room.

Kyle watched him move away for a moment, an instant of self doubt flaring up in his heart. Then he looked at Francesca who was busy preparing to log in with him. When she smiled at him all doubt he ever had fell away. As dark a life she led, as twisted as her soul was, she trusted him to succeed.

"What, you're coming in to watch?" he asked with a slight grin.

"That, and watch your back for any surprises he might have."

"How very kind of you."

She smiled seductively at him. "I'm just making sure you're around to uphold that promise you made to me in the back of the truck."

He chuckled. "We'll make it a victory celebration." He put on the virtual reality interface visor and sat in a make-shift control chair. Francesca did the same. "Log us in, Milani. Time to put Lizard Boy in his place."

Milani gave a sadistic grin. "I can hack past the defenses that are up and get you in and I'm putting this on the big screen to watch. Logging you in. Live long and thump butt, kiddies!"

The virtual reality interface visors came to life and bright lights flashed before their eyes as they were logged into Questworld. A fluorescent green grid appeared on a background of black. They were standing on the edge of it. In the center of the grid stood to virtual reality representation of Jonny Quest dressed in typical VR body armor. Jonny frowned at the newcomers.

"I thought this was a one-on-one?" he questioned harshly, indicating Francesca with just a jerk of his chin.

"It is." Kyle turned Francesca's face towards himself, caressing her jaw line, never taking his eyes off Jonny. "'Cesca just tagged along for the show." He turned to smile at Francesca. "This won't take long." Kyle stepped away from Francesca and moved towards Jonny. "You know, Quest, after this I just might go find Jessie. She and I have some unfinished business to take care of." he taunted.

"Who says you'll be the one to walk out of this? You're all talk--"

Kyle never let him finish his thought, charging at his adversary with the semblance of a war cry. Jonny braced himself as if intending to absorb the lunge, then side stepped at the last possible moment, driving a fist hard into Kyle's ribs. Kyle dropped like a stone, cradling his ribs in pain. In the distance he heard Francesca gasp in worry. He faced his adversary with pure hatred in his grey eyes, rolling onto his knees to leap to his feet. That was a lucky shot he never allow again. Again he lunged, this time not falling for the feint. They collided and grappled with each other, each trying to land that one blow that would given them the upper hand. Every move they had ever learned, every technique they had ever acquired was being put to the ultimate test, from simple one two punch combinations to full force roundhouse kicks.

Francesca stood by and watched in glee. As she watched she suddenly felt torn. Before her, one fighting for the sake of his family and friends, the other fighting for revenge, were the two men she felt the most for aside from her Father, David Hamilton. The day she had met Jonny was the day she had fallen in love with him, hard. He was exciting. The fire in his soul when provoked was awe inspiring. Then there was Kyle. Strong, dark, chilling to the point of thrilling. She wanted this man, but she still wanted Jonny. The auras surrounding these two men were worlds apart, but both drew her towards them like a hapless moth to a seductive flame. A life with either one would make her happy.

Through the fight a part of Jonny's mind thought back to Jessie. This fight wasn't going well and he knew it would escalate past the hand-to-hand combat. As Kyle landed a lucky blow Jonny thought how it was a good thing Jessie didn't know about this fight and how she wasn't here to witness this.

* * *

Jessie carefully dabbed at the swelling around Hadji's eye, trying to help bring the swelling down, when he finally, gently, waved her hand away.

"I am fine, Jessie. This will heal even when left alone." he told her.

She sighed. "Sorry. You sure you'll be okay?"

A slight grin turned up the corners of his lips. "Yes, thank you."

She hunched her shoulders. "Can't help but worry. My flaw."

"Your virtue. Most people ignore the worry, but you let it give you the insight into any situation."

"Like the insight to wonder why Jonny still hasn't come back yet?" She looked to the bedroom door with a slight look of worry. "Doesn't take this long to do a systems check." When Hadji didn't answer her she turned to face him sharply. He refused to meet her gaze. Having lived under the same roof as him and the other household members, Jessie had learned to read their personalities and mannerisms. This one told her he was hiding something from her. "You know something, don't you?" Again he didn't answer, hunching his shoulders. "Hadji, what's going on?" she demanded.

"I... I am not supposed to let you know." Hadji faltered. He suddenly sighed heavily, as if coming to an important decision. "But you have a right to know."

"Let me know what?"

He looked her straight in the eye. "Jonny did not go perform a systems check. He went to log himself into Questworld."

"What!? Alone? What the Hell is he thinking?"

"I believe he is not thinking, with his brain anyway. He is thinking with his heart. When I was in Questworld being attacked by Kyle this one issued a challenge to Jonny through me. Fight him or everyone around him dies. He has gone in to respond to that challenge to protect the rest of us."

Total shock crossed her features. "Why didn't he want me to know?"

"I believe it is because he knew you would follow him into Questworld. He does not want to see you get hurt again when he knows he can prevent it this time. Logging into the system with him is a guarantee you will be hurt."

"Damn him!" she breathed harshly. "D'you think you can run?" she directed at Hadji.

He blinked. "Yes, I think so."

"Good. We're going to the Lab, you're logging me in, and you do whatever it takes to keep us both alive in there. Got that?"

He could only nod. It was always a wise thing to stay out of Jessie's way when she was determined about something.

* * *

Using all the training Jonny had gleaned from Race Bannon over the years, he expertly ducked a roundhouse kick, then turned the duck into a sweeping kick to knock Kyle off his feet. Kyle dropped with a satisfying thump, giving Jonny enough time to back away and catch his breath. Compared to his opponent Jonny had landed more blows, but Kyle had the quick and powerful bursts of anger and hatred fueling his stamina where as Jonny only had the love for his family and friends. And Jessie. For her sake he couldn't lose. Just as he was preparing for another round of this virtual battle the grid like scenery around them flashed.

"PREPARING FOR USER LOG ON." came IRIS's voice from out of nowhere.

* * *

Hadji was busy typing away computer commands as Jessie took the control chair next to Jonny.

"While you are in there I will try to regain independent control of the system. Do not take any unnecessary chances. I will help you both the best I can from here." Hadji told her.

Jessie nodded, placing the VR interface visor over her eyes. "Just try to match whatever they throw at us. Questworld: Log on. Subject: Jessie Bannon. Going hot!"

"LOG ON IN THREE... TWO... ONE..."

* * *

"On you toes, people!" Ted Milani called out to the room.

Julia rushed to his side. "What is it?"

"We've got another... No! Two new users logging in... Still in Maine... Bannon's Daughter and the boy Sultan. Looks like she's going in and he's... How rude!"

"What?" Julia demanded at this outburst.

"He's trying to take control of the system away from me. Well, we can't have that. Alright, Mister Sultan. You want a little game of two on two chess? Fine. Let's play." He flicked an on-console switch. "Merrick, Hamilton! Heads up! He has the Turbaned Majesty playing god for his team and the Bannon girl's joining Quest in the system."

* * *

Jonny bristled. "Jessie?"

"Can we possibly talk about this later?" came her voice from behind him.

Before he could turn around a sudden blur of red flashed by him. With a practiced war cry Jessie charged straight at Francesca, easily catching her off guard. Jessie grabbed her shoulders and threw her Judo style. Francesca landed with a very satisfying thump. Jonny had to chuckle. This fight was a long time in coming between the two of them, but this was still dangerous. The last thing he wanted was for Jessie to be hurt. He turned just in time to see Kyle charging at him. He absorbed the lunge, rolling to his back, and throwing him over him. Kyle skidded across the floor before rolling to his knees.

"Milani!" Merrick called to the sky. "Do something, will you?"

* * *

Milani's fingers flew over the computer console as he entered code after code in rapid succession. "One upgrade coming your way, cyber-warrior. Knight to king four."

* * *

Hadji saw the coding a few seconds before they came into effect. It was all he needed to react. He, too, entered computer codes at a phenomenal rate. He only hoped it was enough.

* * *

Just as the blaster canon materialized over Kyle's shoulder an energy shield coalesced on Jonny's arm, blocking the impending, deadly shot. The force of the blast sent his reeling back slightly, just enough for him to have to put his hand down for balance. Again he risked a glance across the virtual-scape to where Jessie and Francesca were fighting with quarter staffs. Every saying ever stated about a redhead's temperament were being made manifest right then and there. Jessie was putting the serious hurt on Francesca. No words were exchanged between them. This was a straight fight and Jessie was winning. Every spin and strike Jessie made was a work of art.

Jonny turned his attention back to Kyle who was shooting at him continuously. "Hadji! Almost have them locked out of the system?" he called to the sky just as an energy crossbow appeared on his wrist. He took aim at Kyle from around the edge of his shield and fired, hitting the blaster canon, but not damaging it.

* * *

"Almost, my Brother. These are some very complex commands being inputted by whoever they have on the other side. Just a moment, I think I may have it... Oh dear!"

* * *

Ted Milani chuckled gleefully at the coding scrolling on the screen before him. "Chew on that, Minor Majesty. Checkmate!"

* * *

Jessie swung the quarter staff hard and caught Francesca on the shoulder, knocking her to the ground, her quarter staff rolling away from her reach. Not taking a moment to tend to her shoulder Francesca rolled to a crouch in time to stop the next blow from Jessie. And there were many that followed.

Hadji's oh dear was what broke her momentum.

"Hadji, what's going on?"

* * *

Hadji typed furiously at the keyboard, struggling to stay one step ahead of the program that was now running. He was losing against the computer... and badly.

"Uhhh... you really do not want to hear this."

* * *

The Virtual Reality scenery suddenly changed from its red grid on black to a black grid on violently swirling green. The combatants stopped, awed and afraid of this sight. Jessie backed away from Francesca, joining Jonny behind the safety of his energy shield.

"I take it this was what you didn't us to hear." she told the swirling sky.

"What's going on?" Jonny asked.

* * *

In the real world the young Sultan was already rushing to enter the abort codes. "I am logging you out!" he stated in all urgency.

* * *

"No, Hadji!" Jonny called out, too late.

Before Jonny's eyes the lights flashed, signaling the log out of Questworld. Mentally fighting it as much as he could he couldn't stop it from happening. As soon as the VR interface visor shut down and his senses surface the smell of burning circuitry reached his nose and the occasional flash of a spark caught his eyes.

"What happened?" Jessie asked before Jonny could.

"Whoever their hacker is was one step ahead of me. He sent a bomb."

"A what?"

"A bomb. A cyber-bomb. It is like a virus that specifically targets the primary memory and RAM and overloads them with information. I barely managed to pull the both of you out of there before the system crashed."

Jonny pulled at his own hair in frustration. "We almost had them." he ground fiercely.

Then he rounded on Jessie. The worry he had in him for her during their time in Questworld had turned to some mysterious form of anger. He hadn't wanted her there. Jessie blinked from the steel she saw in his eyes. She wasn't used to seeing this kind of look from him, especially not directed at her.

"And you! What the Hell do you think you were doing?" he demanded, his tone harsh.

She blinked, his tone forcing her to take a step back in surprise. "Helping you." she answered lamely.

"I didn't want you there!"

He suddenly stopped himself before he could say another word. With a growl he tossed his visor at Hadji and stormed out of the Lighthouse Lab. Jessie was going to chase after him, but Hadji stopped her.

"Give him time. His anger is not directed at you, but at Kyle. This was important to him. When he has... cooled down he will apologize. But now is not the time."

Jessie just stared at the door. She felt torn, but Hadji was right. He needed to blow off some steam after this fight. Besides, had Francesca been the one to have issued Jessie the challenge she would have probably reacted the same way. Their first battle with Kyle Merrick and Francesca Hamilton... and they had lost.

* * *

Race Bannon read the security reports before him as he sat on the plush couch. Marie Métier had given him and Doctor Quest the use of her home for the duration of their stay. He surveyed the room again with a smile. She had impeccable taste when it came to decorating this chalet style house. Soap stone and Native wood carvings adorned the walls and shelves. Native woven blankets were thrown elegantly over the furniture. This was a welcoming home for anyone, especially with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting in from the kitchen.

He returned his attention to the reports and grimaced in disgust. Somehow there had been a leak in their security and the media had found out Doctor Quest was here working on the problem with the virus. Race hated the media. They were always there when they weren't needed, got into places where they shouldn't be, and always needed to be saved because they were too stupid to get out of trouble.

"Probably would stay right where they were even if a Grizzly was chargin' at them." he muttered sourly.

Just then the door leading outside opened, letting in a mildly cold breeze as Doctor Quest and Marie Métier walked in. Both looked very tired as they shrugged out of their coats, but Marie looked on the verge of tears. Race was on his feet and at her side in seconds.

"What happened?" he thought to ask them both.

Benton sighed heavily. "Two of the chimpanzees we infected this morning with a modified version of the virus just died."

Marie pressed herself to Race's chest and began to sob softly, mourning for the lab animals. Race held her tight in comfort. He hated to see anyone cry.

Benton gave them a moment of silence before continuing. He had seen the hurt in her eyes when he had first put in the request for the animals. Truth be known he hadn't liked it either, but there had been no other choice in the matter. And then seeing those poor creatures die. It had been the drop that spilt the cup.

"I really hate having to do this to those poor animals, Race, but what other choice do we have."

Race led them both farther into the house towards the living room area where they sat.

"The computers aren't reliable enough to construct an antidote, we can't connect with IRIS because we might infect those systems, and this virus attacks specifically human or human like DNA." Benton continued. "This is so damned frustrating."

"I was thinkin', Doc. What if you're lookin' at this the wrong way?" Marie pulled back slightly and both she and Benton waited for Race to continue. "Think 'bout it. Julia launches a computer virus before she launched the worst biological virus to hit the coast. What if that means..."

"What if that means the computer virus is there to make our jobs harder because the computers would find a cure right away!" Marie concluded, suddenly understanding.

"And that would fit Julia's previous modus operandi. Brilliant! I'll need help for this, but we can't call on anymore outside help now that the media found out. Who do we know who knows the present situation and who knows computers inside and out."

Race shrugged. "The kids."

"Right, and out of them?

He snapped his fingers in realization. "Hadji!"

"Exactly! In the morning I'll contact him and tell him to take one of the planes and fly up here. If we are going to beat this little puzzle Julia sent us then we need the computer systems purged and back on-line as soon as possible."

"Then... we won't need the chimps after that?" Marie asked hopefully.

Benton smiled reassuringly. "We certainly won't. With the computers fixed we'll be able to safely connect with IRIS and find a cure in no time."

"I'm wonderin' why we just don't send it to the kids an' have them have a crack at the problem."

Doctor quest shook his head in negative. "Electronic mail systems are down and could carry the computer virus to IRIS. And I don't trust regular mail or the courier systems with Julia, Lorenzo, and whoever else they have working for them out there. We'll stop testing on the chimpanzees, but this plan to go after the computer virus stays between the three of us."

"Right. The less people who know about this the less chances there are of an info leak. We'll just say that we needed some equipment from Maine an' had Hadji fly it all up here."

"Sound so very cloak and dagger." Marie voiced with a small grin.

Race and Benton both chuckled. "This is business as usual for us, Marie. Now, Race, how about some of that delicious coffee I smell."

* * *

Doctor Jeremiah Surd sat in front of a large computer screen, surveying the news reports on the Canadian television channels, grinning with glee. What a delightful little mess Julia had created using his files. The virus had spread from killing children to killing adults. The entire area surrounding Victoria, Vancouver, and their suburbs had been quarantined and the airports closed to stop the spreading of this virus. And to add to the damage all medical or medically related computers were attacked by an electronic virus to stay the possibility of a quick cure. Surd was pleased.

The door to the private room opened and in walked Julia. "Milani is taking care of Merrick and Hamilton in Questworld. You wished to see me, Jeremiah?"

"Yes, Julia, please, sit. I have questions to ask you."

She sat at the console next to him. "Ask me anything you want."

"I need to know more on those people you hired. Why them specifically?"

She grinned. "The important ones had previous run-ins with the Quests. The others are canon fodder." She turned to the keyboard before her and began tapping in commands, calling up files on each member of her assembled team. "Peter Stanton, the wild looking one Lorenzo brought in shortly after we brought you out of Questworld, is a former marine. Very unstable and spent several years in an insane asylum, but the only thing keeping him going right now is the promise that he'll have a chance to kill young Quest. He encountered the boy in Maine. Seems to hate him with a passion."

"Such a hatred can be very useful if properly focused. Yes, a good asset."

"Next, Kyle Merrick, the boy of our team. His file starts after a strange incident in Rockport where he went after Bannon's Daughter. He has a fixation with her it seems. His police record shows he's adept in many different styles of fighting. For almost two years he was at Rikers Maximum State Prison as a dangerous offender where he escaped by killing a guard and passing himself off as him. It's not specific on how he was caught again, but it says the Quests were again involved with his re-capture. His style is unique, but effective. Various reports I've amassed from South America and India place him at the top of the mercenary chart."

"Hmm, an interesting fixation we will have to keep an eye on. But I'm impressed by his resume and references. He, too, wants young Quest dead by the looks of it. I wonder why?"

"Francesca Hamilton also has a history with the Quests and Bannons. It seems she was to be a distraction to allow her Father to steal material from Doctor Quest. She was in Cairo at the same time as them and is reported to be the cause of Bannon's Daughter being in the hospital near death. Too bad she failed in killing her. She and her Father were extradited to the States where they were imprisoned. She was released on good behavior, yeah right, and has been a resident of Rockport, Maine, ever since. Her experience with weapons and espionage seemed worthy to recruit her."

"Yes, a good idea. She wants Miss Bannon dead from what is said in her file. Another mystery to discover."

"Katianna Souriskova. Little is known of her since she was never caught. From what she's volunteered to tell me she's a cat burglar of surprising talent. In fact she led the heist on CFB Chilliwack to steal some needed equipment. You could almost call her a rubber band on legs."

"Interesting."

"I plan to use her to distract Bannon long enough to get to Quest and Métier, the other doctor working with him. Ted Milani, a self proclaimed King of the Hackers, he was caught a few years back hacking into the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and deleting information for fun. He has computer knowledge that surpass even our own, Jeremiah."

"Does he now? Well, well, well. I may have just found a candidate for neural extraction when all this is done."

Julia grinned. "I thought you might enjoy him. Cassidy Bela, a hacker for hire as she calls herself. She has the unusual ability to be able to remember every bit of electronic information she sees. That why she was imprisoned, for the safety of the United States. Seems she gathered enough information on our government to make her a very rich woman and any country receiving this information invincible. A mind like that might be useful for, say, being another candidate for you later?"

Surd merely chuckled.

"Ethyl Erma's file shows nothing important. She is a computer expert who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was surprised downloading some very sensitive files. She claims innocence of the whole incident, but the authorities weren't so understanding. Now Basil Thornton is an interesting case. He worked in Area 51 in their bio-engineering division, splicing and re-combining DNA with other strands from different species. But he was short on money and began selling his work to the highest bidder. He was never formally charged because then the authorities would have to admit something was going on at Area 51 that wasn't completely legal. He was perfect to develop your virus. A mercenary bio-engineer by the name of Aidan Armand also helps him. Her file simply states that she was imprisoned for not sharing any of her research with any country where it would've helped. She finds an almost perverse pleasure in releasing her notes on a cure only after the death toll has reached the hundred thousands."

"A perfect mind to work for us. Well done, Julia. I'm most pleased and impressed with your selections. You've put a lot of thought behind all this."

"I live to please, Jeremiah." and they both began to laugh.

* * *

With a huge, pleased grin plastered on his face Kyle Merrick extracted himself from the Virtual Reality equipment. Francesca Hamilton chuckled as she did the same.

"Oh, yes! That was beautiful, Milani!" he praised, hi-fiving the hacker.

Ted Milani shrugged casually in false modesty. "Wasn't very big really. A simple code of my design that specifically blows up anything I choose."

"And what did you choose?" Francesca asked, shaking the tangles in her long raven hair that the helmet had caused.

He grinned, obviously pleased with himself. "Ah, that was a stroke of pure genius. I remembered that our little hound program was still running in the Quests' mainframe so I just sent a wonderful little bug after it. Once it reached the hound it was programmed to attack any and all surrounding systems. And boom!"

Kyle had to laugh. "I don't care how simple you call it. It was perfect. The look on Lizard Boy's face when the other logged him out. That'll be carved in my mind forever. I owe you for that pleasure." and, after giving his hand a good shake, her and Francesca began walking away down an ill lit corridor to the personal quarters. Kyle stretched and sighed heavily. "After that, a shower, and I'm set for the night."

Francesca gave him a sultry grin. "No, you're not set. We still have to celebrate."

He smiled knowingly, pinning her to the wall. "If you can give me ten minutes to get cleaned up..."

"And only ten minutes." she purred.

"That's all I'll need."

Then he kissed her forehead and walked away to his quarters before heading for the building's one and only shower. He showered quickly under the hot stream of water, washing away the thin film of perspiration caused from the battle in VR. Then, after drying off and putting on a night robe, he left, not for his quarters, but for Francesca's. Hers was the most secluded of all the rooms, in a far corner all by itself. The other rooms around it were used for storage. Kyle grinned. She had chosen well.

He didn't bother knocking on the door, just barging right in. She turned sharply in surprise, but a seductive smile hid her initial shock from him as he closed the door. He took her shoulders and pushed her back hard against the wall, his lips meshing hard with hers. Her fingers dug into his back. He pulled back with a sharp inhale and yanked open her thin blouse, the buttons clattering in ever which direction. Kyle didn't give her a moment to react to the move, already nibbling and biting at her breast through the intricate black lace of her bra. She gave little yelps from the pleasurable pain he was causing. His hands were at her waist and, with a sharp tug, he pulled her jeans down to her ankles to reveal a pair of black lace underwear. He licked and nibbled at the inside of her thighs, thrilling from the feel and smell of her skin.

Francesca was lost. Only sounds came from her lips, nothing coherent, and her movements eluded her. How could any one man make her feel this way, so violently? She played the passive role for now, knowing somehow this was how he liked it. He suddenly turned her around to pin her facing the wall as he pressed his full length against her, placing open mouthed kisses along her shoulders and side of her neck. He yanked the clasps of her bra apart, almost ripping the garment off of her. Then he reached around her, cupping each full breast in a hand, kneading and squeezing them, making her cry out in a mixture of pleasure and pain. She trembled. Francesca suddenly felt one of his hands slide down over the flat of her stomach to between her thighs and begin caressing her through the lace of her underwear. She forced herself away from the wall, turning to face him. His eyes seemed to bore right through her, a menacing grin on his lips. She tugged at the rope tying his robe shut. It fell open in an instant and he pressed his full naked length against her, eliciting an even stronger tremble from her. He nibbled his way down from her shoulder to her breasts, biting and teasing her nipples into taut buds, as he pulled off the last of her garments.

Kyle suddenly picked her up and tossed her unceremoniously on to the makeshift bed in the corner, leaping on top of her to pin her there, kneeling between her legs. There were no preliminaries. He was inside her with one quick thrust. She cried out at this, arching up to him. His hands held her hips in a bruising grip, grinding his hips against hers, as she panted and moaned from his harsh attention. Francesca gripped at the pillow, faintly hearing the stitches in it snap from her tugging. An incredible sensation began to flood her senses. Instinctively she knew what this was and reached out to Kyle. Her legs locked around his hips. Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as his arms crushed her to his chest, their lips meshing once more. Her whole body shook as he gave one last, long, hard thrust.

A moment later she collapsed to her back, both panting desperately for breath. He looked down at her, at her every beautifully flushed curves. Her eyes were closed as she struggled for air. Kyle smiled and leaned over her, pressing his lips to her forehead. She chuckled breathlessly, holding onto his arms at either side of her head, looking up into his steel grey eyes.

"You make me forget my past." she breathed softly, blissfully.

"I was just going to say the same thing to you. Is it too early to tell you something?"

She frowned a grin, intrigued. "What?"

He hesitated for a moment. "I love you." he breathed. "It's the first time I've ever told any woman that and meant it."

Her eyes softened, honored by the admission. Gently she touched his face. "I love you, too, Kyle." and their lips met again as they held each other tight.

* * *

Jessie sat in the family room on the couch, her eyes focused on the fire crackling in the fireplace, her hand absently scratching behind Bandit's ear as he nuzzled himself next to her leg.. She still couldn't believe it had happened. Jonny and her had just had a fight. They had been battling Francesca Hamilton and Kyle Merrick in Questworld and had been forced to log out of the program or risk being killed. They had almost beaten their enemies and Jonny still had the energy pent up inside him. Jessie knew he wasn't really mad at her, but it still had hurt. The look in his eyes had been ice.

"CRYSTA ROBERTSON AT FRONT DOOR" IRIS suddenly boomed into the room.

With a sigh Jessie rose to her feet and went to open the door. The eccentric blond stood there in a purple cat suit under a lime green ski jacket. Her hair was tied back in a tight braid. A look of worry was on her face.

"I came as soon as you called, Chica. What's wrong?"

"We had a fight."

"You and Jonny? Oh man!", and she gave her friend a tight hug. They went back into the family room and sat down. "Tell me all about it, Jess."

Jessie recounted the entire incident to her friend, omitting not one single bit of detail. Like the good friend she was, Crysta kept a tight hold on Jessie's hand. "... And then he just stormed out and we've been avoiding each other since. I want to talk to him, but I don't know how to... to..."

"Bridge the gap?" Jessie nodded. "What I do with Todd when that happens is I hover."

"Hover?"

"Yeah. Not noticeably or obsessively, but enough to be there. It gave him enough time to realize what happened. Of course, with you and Jonny, you'll have to take a different approach. I mean, you have Hadji here to be like a relay between the two of you."

As if on cue, Hadji appeared in the door to the family room. Hadji smiled gently when he saw Crysta and Jessie sitting on one of the sofas, understanding what this was all about. "Good evening, Crysta." he said.

"Speak of the devil." she grinned. "Hey, Hadj. What news?"

Hadji sighed. "Well, he is in the gym venting out his anger. You would not want to cross him when he is angry."

Jessie looked away to the fire at that comment. It was worse than she had originally thought.

"How bad is it?" Crysta thought to ask.

Hadji tried to laugh to cover up the trouble he felt within. He failed miserably. "When I went to the gym to speak to him, I tried to humor his mood by holding the punching bag while he vented. I told him that if he continued this vicious attack on the bag, then it would end up looking like a prune. Well, he did not take my comment very well. As a matter of fact, he became quite hostile towards me, and warned me to back away. According to him, he was in no mood to joke around. The look on his face was the exact same look I had seen in Cairo when he went after Francesca, so I knew it would be wise to leave him be." He sighed heavily. "Crysta, when I learned that he had single-handedly taken down all the members that were present in Cairo, of the crime organization the Hamiltons were a part of, I had learned that Jonny was the last person anyone would want to cross when he is extremely angry. I am, to an extent, actually feeling a bit of joy to know that Merrick and Francesca will not stand a chance when Jonny confronts either of them again. He has reached his breaking point again, like in Cairo, and believe me when I say that he might go to extremes in neutralizing the both of them. In that I do not take any comfort."

"And not necessarily good news for Chica here." Crysta sighed, looking to Jessie. She then turned back to Hadji. "Any chance we might get him to cool off?"

Hadji winced before he replied. "Crysta, I believe we should let Jonny have his time to vent out his anger." He turned to Jessie with a very serious expression on his face. "Jessie, I know that you want to talk to him at this very moment, but I would rather have him release his anger in the gym rather than on you. He might try something very foolish as log into Questworld to find Kyle and Francesca again, but I think I can stop that from happening. Believe me, it is for the best for now if you are not around."

They suddenly heard Jonny's loud cry coming from the gym followed by a very loud thud of the punching bag. All three of them jumped in surprised shock and Bandit took off running in the direction of the gym, barking all the way.

At this Crysta grabbed Jessie's arms, steering her towards the door. "All right, Jess, we're leaving. You need air..."

"No, I don't--"

"Oh, yes, you do. This'll give Blondie some down time. As for Questworld, Hadj, can you make sure somehow that he doesn't get back in? If I know Blondie, he will try to go back in and finish what he started. You know my cell number if you need to reach us. We'll be at the mall." and she all but dragged Jessie out of the house to her car.

"Crysta!" Hadji called out to her. She turned to him. "I would like to speak to you for just a moment."

"Give me two minutes, Hadj." She ushered Jessie out of the house and into the passenger seat of the car, then returned to the house. "What is it?"

Hadji gave her a conspiring look as he spoke in a low voice. "Do you keep your cellular phone on you at all times when you are out of your home?"

"Yeah, always. It's like my credit cards, never go anywhere without it."

Hadji nodded seriously. He just couldn't find it within him to try to acknowledge her humor at this point in time. He was too worried about Jonny and Jessie. "Listen, I am going to keep my cellular phone with me as well. You know my number. I want you to keep making the calls here, from the mall, whenever you can keep a distance from Jessie. It may, or may not, be serious, but I have no intentions of taking that chance. As it is, Jessie is in a lot of confusion and distress, and I can not bare to see in anymore of it. That is why I want you to find ways to excuse yourself from her whenever you possibly can, so you could contact me on a regular basis. Try to call me every hour that you are there at the mall. I shall keep you posted on Jonny's condition and you can tell me how she is doing, but do not mention this to Jessie. I do not want her to have any knowledge of this. She needs to be away from this until the situation settles down, understand?"

Her eyes went wide. "Yikes! Reminds me of The Avengers. Yeah, sure, I'll do that. Just make sure you find a crack in that nut's shell, okay?"

Hadji let out a heavy sigh, "This may seem absurd, but I believe that this much precaution is necessary! This situation must be handled delicately before it becomes worse."

"Just might if we don't do anything about it. You handle Mister Adventurer back there, like I know only you can, and I'll try my best with Chica. Deal?" and she stuck her hand out to him.

He shook her hand. "Agreed."

* * *

Crysta drove along the icy cliff roads towards downtown Rockport. Jessie sighed heavily after a few minutes and turned to her friend. "I still don't get why we couldn't stay back at the Compound. Jonny--"

"Needs some time to cool off," she cut off. "This will give him that time."

"But he needs me."

"Sorry, Chica. Right now he has a better chance of blowing up at you again if you're around him. He needs to realize what he did and the only way he'll be able to do that is if he gets rid of all that excess energy. And you need to find a way to talk to him again when Blondie cools off, but not something analyzed to death. Something your subconscious worked out."

Jessie sighed again. "That's why we're going into town?"

"That right."

"To think with my subconscious?"

"Right again."

"So how do you propose I do that?"

Crysta grinned impishly. "Shopping!"

Jessie had to chuckle. "Should've guessed. You're a hopeless shop-o-holic, you know that?"

"What can I say, I'm a slave to fashion."

"More like a fashion victim."

"Don't even go there, Chica. Tell me something though?"

"Sure."

"Why is it this Kyle Merrick guy and Francesca seemed to always push all of Blondie's buttons?"

Jessie hesitated as they came to the outskirts of Rockport. "Francesca, is still after him and wants me dead again, you know that much. Merrick... That's too long a story."

"That's okay. You can tell me while I attempt to update your wardrobe."

Jessie groaned in amused dismay. They arrived at the mall shortly after and Crysta dragged Jessie from one shop to the next. Clothing shops, book stores, accessories stores. The Brooklyn native even brought Jessie into a lingerie store.

"Something to make the making up more memorable." had been her reason to Jessie.

Finally, tired from this mini marathon, they sat at the food court for a bite to eat. Jessie sighed heavily as she put her feet up on the chair across from her. "To shop with you, Crys, one almost needs an electric golf cart."

She chuckled. "But I get things done. Speaking of getting things done, you were going to tell me something?" she prompted.

"Merrick and Francesca, yeah... What to say? Merrick is after me because I didn't want him. I told him no and he didn't take it very well. Not that I'd ever want him, what with trying to kill Jonny each and every time."

"That's that Dragon's Blood thing, right? When you and Blondie finally figured out a few things about your feelings?"

Jessie gave a small, sad grin. "Yeah. You know, Jonny's amazing. A will of iron, incredible courage or stupidity, I haven't quite figured that out, a heart so big there's room for the Universe and more... He tries so hard to make everyone happy, to make me happy, but at the same time I feel he's holding back. It sounds selfish, but that's not what I mean. It's almost like he's afraid. I just don't know of what exactly."

"I think I can help you out there. Look at what's happened in the past three years. He almost died without telling you how much he loved you. And then you almost died twice, the person her cherishes more than life. He's afraid you'll get hurt, that he'll lose you. He wants to protect you, like any guy would."

"But I don't need protection. I'm not some shrinking violet, I can take care of myself."

"Let's look at this from Blondie's perspective. Let's reversed the roles here, Chica, and ask what if you were the one who was in Jonny's shoes? Lets say this, Kyle Merrick had put Jonny in the hospital and he was in a coma. If Jonny was pronounced clinically dead, wouldn't you go after this Merrick guy to kill him? Wouldn't you become very over-protective towards Jonny afterwards even though you knew he was capable of taking care of himself? You see, Jess, Jonny knows that you are very capable of taking care of yourself, but he doesn't want to take anymore chances of seeing you hurt ever again. If I remember this right, you told me once that your mother had said something like that to you too. I don't blame him for being so over-protective towards you after what he went through in Cairo. He wants to protect you, you want to protect him, but neither of you have ever talked about why you do it, what your motive is behind it. Everyone else has told you, but you need to be face-to-face and confront that aspect. You were stepping on each other's toes without realizing it."

Jessie had a long pause as she absorbed this information. Crysta was right. She was absolutely right. She smirked at her friend. "When did you become so smart?"

"Hey, you grow up in Brooklyn and have to watch out for three younger Brothers, you learn a few things."

* * *

Lorenzo slipped through the waters of the Pacific coastline towards the small wooden pier. A large white building stood in the distance, and not far from that a wood cabin. He grinned over his snorkel. Doctor Quest and Race Bannon were in one of these two buildings. His orders had been to lead a strike against them to slow down whatever progress they had made. His favorite kind of work. He knew that somewhere on either side of him was a grouping of thirty of so of the best men Julia had hired. Peter Stanton, that psycho, was also there somewhere. Lorenzo hoped he could keep him under control for this little mission.

* * *

Having left Marie and Race lost in their conversation, Benton had returned to the lab. He watched four of the lab technicians on hand moving the chimps from the autopsy lab towards the back room where he knew was a large bio-matter incinerator. He was vaguely aware of anyone next to him until she began to speak. Nina LaChance, a beautiful and brilliant woman with long golden hair. Before he arrived in Simoom Sound, Marie Métier had been in charge of this project with Nina LaChance as Second-in-Command. Now he was in charge which moved LaChance down a notch. But she took it without a trace of bitterness. She reminded him a lot of Rachel in some ways, graceful, strong...

And half your age, a voice inside him chided for the romantics thoughts that began to surge forth.

"The livers all showed signs of jaundice and the bone marrow was nearly dead." she began. "The hemocytometer showed an unusually high count of white cells and platelets and abnormal hemoglobin. What I don't understand is why this Julia didn't make it airborne. Again, call me morbid, but it would've been more deadly this way."

Benton sighed heavily. "Julia isn't aiming for a death toll. She just wants people to suffer. An airborne virus is too hard to control. She wants this in one area so she can control it and be able to give threats in all security that it won't spread to somewhere where the computers aren't affected and a cure can be found."

"She really thought this all out."

"This is Doctor Surd's Julia. She has never done anything halfway."

Nina nodded quietly before looking up at him. "Sorry about the chimpanzees."

Benton shook his head sadly. "It had to be tried. Those scared creatures died for science, but it doesn't make it hurt any less. After all, scientifically speaking, they're family."

"Makes you kind of sorry to test on the remaining chimps."

"We're not testing again for a least a few days. I'm... um... bringing in another member of my staff who... um... might be able to help us."

She was about to say something when the loud peal of an alarm filled the building to a deafening level. Benton ducked slightly out of reflex. Over the sirens he could hear sudden gunfire. Then the three words he always dreaded to hear.

"We're under attack!"

"Oh, damn!" he muttered. A group of RCMP's raced into the lab and began barricading the door. Benton quickly spotted Race and Marie in that crowd of a dozen or so. "Race!"

"We were on our way here when we spotted them. They came out of nowhere, Doc! Lorenzo's calling the shots, I saw that much."

"Julia's afraid we're getting too close to the answer. How many?"

"'Bout thirty. All armed. We're bein' creamed out there."

Benton looked to those around him. The RCMP's lining the windows and doors, at ready for a fight. Marie Métier and Nina LaChance huddling with the other laboratory personnel, waiting to see what would happen with fear. As he scanned the small group in the lab his eyes fell on a large black trunk with a stylized green Q across the cover. A glimmer of hope registered in his soul. "Race, help me!"

They both ran to the trunk, not taking the time to fish for a key. Race merely grabbed an overhead lamp and rammed down hard on the trunk's lock. It popped open with a resounding clang. Inside the trunk, all neatly nestled in molded foam spaces, was a number of small handheld devices, fifteen in all. Race palmed one and looked at it. It vaguely resembled a .38 Weston.

"What are these things?" he asked, passing the rest out to the gathered RCMP personnel.

"Prototypes I had brought over. My design, Pentagon researched and built. They're phased plaser guns, or PPGs for short. Theoretically they shoot a burst of plasma and can stun or kill, depending on the setting."

"Theoretically?"

Benton looked at Race with a slightly sheepish shrug. "They were never tested beyond the calculations phase of design."

"Great." he muttered. He took a good long look at the weapon before raising an eyebrow to his long time friend. "Your design you said?"

"Yes."

Race shrugged. "Good enough for me. Now how d'you work these things?"

* * *

Kill Quest! Kill Quest! was the mantra like chant being repeated over and over in Peter Stanton's mind.

He was fixated, a dangerous state for the psychotic. A man in polar combat fatigues ran towards him to stop him. Stanton merely punched him to stun him, then snapped his neck like a twig. This kill made him feel good, but the true prize was still ahead in the laboratory.

And he would get him. First, the elder Quest. Jonny Quest would follow soon enough.

* * *

"Go, go, go!" Lorenzo called to his troops, urging them towards the laboratory complex where he knew Doctor Quest and Bannon had taken refuge with the other scientists. "Aim for the windows! Shoot anything that moves!" and he himself took aim for one of the glass panes.

But, before he or anyone else could fire, the glass exploded from inside. The air seemed to ripple from a heat source from within.

"What the Hell...?"

A cry from off to his side made him turn away from the strange sight. With each occurrence one of his men would be projected back into the air, then fall to the ground unconscious. Confused, a bitter lump rising in his throat, he took aim for one of the windows and fired off a couple shots. Firing a fifth time he noticed one of the heat disturbances was coming towards him. He barely had time to hit the ground as it raced over him. It was heat, with an electrical feel to it.

Aw man! Why couldn't they have used bullets? he questioned bitterly. At least then, with flak jackets, we have a chance. Doctor Surd and Julia are not going to like this part, but...

"Fall back! Fall back!"

* * *

Doctor Quest watched the attackers run just beyond the reach of the PPGs. "Are they retreating?" he thought to ask.

Race looked long and hard to the scene going on outside, then shook his head. "'Fraid not. They're regroupin'. Your little party favors took 'em off guard."

"We can't stay here, Race."

"I know, I know. This is a logistical nightmare. What's the sayin'? Sittin' ducks?"

"And what's Jonny's saying? Take the fight to them?"

"We only need to take out Lorenzo. They'll split as soon as he's gone." He moved away from the window and pointed to two officers. "You and you, stay here and make sure no one gets in." He turned to Doctor Quest. "Jonny would never forgive me if I let you go out there."

"Never forgive you? I wouldn't hear the end of it myself. Nor would I have an easier time with Jessie if you got hurt out there. Be careful, Old Friend."

"Hey! It's me." he stated nonchalantly as he prepared to lead the charge outside.

Benton groaned in slight dismay. "Where have I heard that before?" he questioned the ceiling.

* * *

From his vantage point behind a redwood, Lorenzo could see some activity taking place within the laboratory. If he knew Bannon, and he liked to think he did, he would be trying to make a charge out of the building. Take the fight outside where they could maneuver more easily. With silent signals Lorenzo got his remaining men to spread out, offering harder targets for the impending charge. He frowned suddenly, looking at his men. There was something wrong here. Someone was missing.

"Aw, man!" he groaned in realization as Race Bannon led the charge out of the laboratory. "Stanton!"

* * *

Race's foot barely had time to touch the grass outside the lab before a solid fist connected with his jaw. He hit the ground hard, recovering enough to look up at his attacker. At first he didn't quite recognize this man. Then the memory returned from being jumbled by the blow. Race's heart froze. Stanton!

"Surprise!" this one shrieked with a mad cackle before lunging down at Race.

Bannon's foot connected hard with Stanton's solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him, and giving him just enough time to get back to his feet. Nothing of the fights around them mattered anymore. They faced each other in a fighting stance, circling each other like buzzards around a corpse. Race grimaced. Stanton hadn't changed a bit. He still frothed at the mouth, his eyes as bloodshot as ever. Suddenly the madman lunged at him. Race tried to absorb the lunge, and failed. Stanton had put too much power behind it. He had Race pinned to the wet ground, pummeling and pounding at him with his balled fists, scratching and tearing with his overly long fingernails. A thought out, regular fight Race would be able to handle. The angry beating of a raving mad lunatic was impossible for anyone to anticipate and therefore ward off. He fought as best he could from his back, throwing practiced punches and chops, but nothing seemed to work. His lucky break came when he managed to grab Stanton's collar and rolled him over his shoulder. Before Stanton could recover Race lunged at him. He had enough of this madman. He threw roundhouse kick after drop kick after straight kick, oblivious to the pain of forming bruises or the blood of cuts and scratches dripping over his eyes. Race then gathered his strength behind one solid punch to Stanton's jaw. It connected with a sharp crack, the lunatic falling to the wet ground in a heap. Race waited a few moment longer, waiting for Stanton to move. Except for the rise and fall of his chest, Stanton was motionless. A man Race didn't recognize, sporting heavy welts and bruised on his face, suddenly came into view, quickly slung Stanton over his shoulder, and raced after more men towards the open water. After a few moments of frantic splashing all fell quiet. That's when Race looked around. Bodies lay everywhere, some moaning in pain, others beyond feeling anything ever again.

They had won this skirmish, but at what price?

* * *

Jonny decided to take a shower after spending so much time in the gym venting all the rage and anger he felt. He still couldn't believe that he actually lost against Kyle Merrick in Questworld... Questworld! How could that be? As far as he knew Merrick hadn't been an active participant of the VR world for too long, probably a few days at the most. Jonny, on the other hand, had been using it all his life. He had used it for games, scientific procedures with his Father, Jessie, and Hadji, school projects, and many other areas in which the system was of help. Combat in Questworld was definitely not a new experience for Jonny.

There were many different times when Jonny, along with the other members of the Quest Team, had faced perilous dangers in Questworld, and they had won each and every time. Most of those dangers came from Dr. Jeremiah Surd. He would have understood if they lost to Surd because he had possession of a variation of Questworld, but this was Kyle Merrick they lost to... Kyle Merrick! A rookie in Questworld! He lost to a rookie!

As he came out of the showers and wrapped himself in his bathrobe, he went straight to his bedroom and closed the door. He dried himself off and put on some clean clothes. He was almost out the door when he stopped himself. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the shining gold locket Jessie gave him a few years back in Bangalore. He slowly picked it up and looked at it. The dragon design's ruby eyes seemed to bore into him, almost frowning. He opened it to look at the two pictures inside. One was of his mother, Rachel Wildey Quest, and the other picture was of none other than his best friend and lover, Jessica Bannon. She was the one person whom he loved more than anyone in this world, more than life itself. Suddenly, guilt came upon him as he realized what he did. He had yelled at her, hurt her emotionally. He let out a heavy sigh of grief as he gripped the locket hard, drawing blood. He buried his face in his other hand, shaking his head.

Oh God, what have I done? he asked himself. Sure, I was mad at her for logging into Questworld during this, but she's always been there for me. I shouldn't have yelled...

Then, he knew where he needed to be. He went dashing out of his room, with the locket still in his hand, as he went looking for Hadji. "Hadji!"

Hadji quickly exited from his room to wonder what the matter was. He looked a bit startled, "What is it?"

"We gotta go out..."

* * *

That evening, they drove to one of the nearby cliffs to where Jonny had chosen. He needed some time to think things through. Jonny parked the car with it's back towards the cliff.

As they sat on the trunk, staring at the ocean and the night sky above it, Hadji asked, "I do not understand why we had to come here. You usually go to the cliffs at home whenever you wanted some peace."

"I needed to be away from the mansion, Hadj." Jonny replied, his tone sad and depressed as he toyed with the locket now around his neck again.

Hadji noticed the look of forlorn in his Brother's eyes, watching his fingers play with the locket, Jessie's gift. Jonny was almost caressing it. They just sat there for a while as they gazed at the stars. It was cold and the snow lay thick around them, but the night still seemed to be pleasant enough despite it. Both of them needed this time. Just as when they were kids, they used to spend a lot of time such as this, together, not talking. As they grew older more responsibilities and obligations had taken away those young and carefree days the two of them had together as Brothers.

Finally, Jonny smiled for the first time in a while. "Just like old times, eh Hadj?"

A grin formed on Hadji's face. "That is exactly what I was reminiscing too. Those were times of no worries, no stress, and no dangers. It was simply a time of complete innocence."

Jonny sighed. "You know, I'm starting to miss those days. We didn't have a care in the world when we were younger. Sometimes I wish I could just go back..."

"I do, too" The silence returned again and they both remained in this silence for some time. Even though they were enjoying this rare occasion to just be Brother away from the world, Jonny knew the real reason they came here. It was time to sort out the troubles that seemed to begin with Jessie earlier that day. "I'm ready to talk about it, Hadji."

Hadji became completely attentive. "All right, tell me what is the matter?"

Jonny sighed, "I just can't believe that we actually lost to Merrick and Francesca in Questworld! Come on, Hadji, this is Questworld! There was no way we were supposed to lose!"

"We did not have much of a choice, my friend. We did not know how capable of an anchor they had. Apparently, he was smart enough to keep his pace with me. My notion is that Julia and Surd taught him how to use the Questworld systems."

"But that's the anchor, and I believe his name is something Milani. Anyway, he's not the reason why I'm so pissed off. I just can't believe we lost to Merrick and Hamilton. I mean, come on, they hadn't been using Questworld for very long. We have been using Questworld for all our lives! How could we lose?"

"But Jonny, if you think back to the problem, we were winning. You were beating Kyle and Francesca with the weaponry I had supplied, but it was not the two of them that were truly responsible for our defeat. It was Milani. I must admit that I was also the one at fault for underestimating my counterpart's Questworld skills. If I had known how well his anchoring skills were, then we most certainly would have won."

Jonny grunted, but he knew that Hadji was right. He turned to look at his Stepbrother and spoke solemnly. "I'm sorry about what happened in the gym today, Hadj."

Hadji waved it off as if nothing was. "Think nothing of it. I realize that you were extremely furious then."

Jonny let out another sigh. "I didn't mean to blow up in Jessie's face like that either, but I wanted to log into Questworld alone! I didn't want Jessie to get into anymore dangerous situations."

"Jonny, you and I both know that Jessie can take excellent care of herself in these situations."

Jonny faced him sharply. "Don't you think I know that, but I don't want her getting hurt ever again!"

Hadji sighed. "I am well aware of that, and I do not blame you. However, have you seen this from her perspective? When the two of you were only friends, she was quite protective of you then. She would not let you go into dangerous situations without her. She did not allow that with me either. It is in her caring nature. We are her family and family is all she has left that is truly worth fighting for. Now that the two of you have become much more than that, she has become a lot more protective towards you because she loves you more than life itself. You cannot expect her to stop protecting you, especially not with the lives we all lead."

"But when were friends Jessie knew that I would always get into this kind of trouble and she had accepted it. True, she didn't just let us to into danger because she came with us, but now it is a whole different ball game. She wants to protect me from danger altogether! Now I know that she's scared that I'll get hurt, but we've been doing this for so long!"

Hadji smiled gently. "But, Jonny, you are contradicting the situation by not wanting Jessie there at all while you want to face danger alone. While you fear for her safety, she fears for yours as well. She feels that you should not be in danger either, and she will go to great lengths to protect you."

"But I don't need protection, Hadji!" Jonny retorted. "I can take care of myself. I'm not some helpless child."

"Listen carefully to yourself, Jonny. Jessie says the same thing. She also keeps telling you that she does not need to be protected. She is not, as she puts it, a shrinking violet. However, I believe that you should protect her to a certain level. If the danger is too great, then I believe that you should help her. However, if it is to a degree to which she can deal with it herself, then you should allow her to do so."

Jonny sighed. "After what happened in Cairo and the road rage right here, I don't think I can ever give her that much of a chance. I just can't..."

After a brief moment, Hadji replied. "I completely understand why you do not want to give her the chance to be independent in dangerous situations because of those two incidences, but you must try. As I said, I do not believe that you should totally leave her be in dangerous situations, but you must allow her to fight her own battles to an extent. Besides, we are a team so this must come with a team effort."

Jonny didn't answer, but he sighed in frustration. He knew Hadji was right, but he just didn't want to face the facts. It was too difficult for him to accept that he should allow Jessie to face the dangers of life alone. He couldn't do it. He just couldn't. There was another silence, but this time it was more tense than pleasant. Hadji could see the distress returning on Jonny's face and he, too, felt quite disturbed by the whole situation. This whole incident with both Jonny and Jessie had him feeling very uncomfortable, but at least he knew how to keep the situation under control. There was something else that he felt had been going on between the two of them, but he just could not figure it out. It was something... He just couldn't figure it out, but he knew that it was not pleasant.

"Jonny," he called out to his Stepbrother. Jonny reluctantly turned to look at him. "Are there other matters between the two of you that I should know about?"

Giving a look of all too fake confusion, Jonny replied. "Nothing other than what I've already told you."

"Jonny, I am thinking that there is more, something along the lines here as in other problems between you and Jessie. For the past few weeks, I have been noticing some uneasiness in you, and I believe that it has something to do with your relationship with Jessie. You have been keeping this to yourself for quite a long time. It is time to let go of your feelings."

Jonny smirked slightly. "You know me well, Hadj... Maybe too well. Well, where should I start?" He let out a heavy sigh of frustration.

"Take your time."

They just sat there for a while. Not a word was said for maybe too long and Hadji was beginning to wonder if Jonny was even going to make a brief statement about the trouble he felt. Finally, he forced himself to turn to Hadji and looked him straight in the eye. He was still quite depressed from it all.

After a deep breath, Jonny spoke. "Jessie makes me feel complete, Hadji. There's nobody alive who I love more than her. I love her so much that it they're no words to describe how or what I feel for her except that it hurts, and you know that I love her more than life itself. I haven't felt this much love and affection from any woman since my Mom died." He sighed heavily before continuing. "It is great being with her, there's no doubt about that, but like many other things there's a down side to our relationship. Sometimes I feel that I'm being smothered by her, and there are other times when she can make me so unbelievably angry."

"Was today a good example of the anger you felt?"

Jonny hesitated. "Not exactly. I was more pissed off at Merrick and Hamilton than Jessie. I won't deny that I was mad at her, but most of it was directed towards those two... you know that."

"How exactly does she bother you, Jonny?"

"Well, there are times when she can be extremely overprotective. I mean, remember when we went after Maya for what she did to Jessie?" Hadji merely nodded. "Well, during the whole time, she constantly kept a close watch over me. Even when I wasn't at home and out somewhere, she called through the cellular phone every five minutes just to see if I was all right. Now, Hadj, there is one thing to make frequent checks to see if I was okay, but this is going way too far. She gets mad if I do that to her, but she does the same thing with me. If I remembered correctly, we were constantly attending to her when we came back from Cairo. She was so extremely annoyed that she blew up in our faces to leave her alone. Do you remember that? Well, if that's happening with her, then why can't she understand my position, Hadj? It is the same thing!"

"I believe it is because of the love that she has for you. It is so strong that it often drives her to constantly look after you." He smiled. "I believe that is the same case with you when it comes to taking good care of her."

Jonny hunched his shoulders. "True, but I'm not the one who was hospitalized in critical condition twice. She was the one who had two near-death experiences first hand." He sighed heavily. "There is something else, Hadji. She has the tendency to be extremely stubborn and pushy. Take for example when were in Italy. When we were all there, she constantly bossed me around. There were things that I wanted to do, too, but she wouldn't hear of it for the first week we stayed there. She can be so damn stubborn! I'm getting sick of it! Finally, I had to talk to her, even pester her, to persuade her that we were on vacation and I needed to have some things my way, too. That's not the point, though. The point is that it took a lot of convincing and persuading on my part to get her to have some things done my way during our time in Italy. That isn't a fifty-fifty relationship, Hadji. It is more of one person controlling another, and she can be very overbearing." As Hadji sat there absorbing everything that his stepbrother was saying, he was amazed at how many problems the two of them had. True, every couple had their differences and their fights, but Jonny was giving him a deep analysis of all the frustrations he was having with Jessie. This clearly showed that the two of them were having some serious problems. "You gotta give me this much credit, Hadj," Jonny continued. "I've been taking it from her for a very long time, but right about now I'm just about sick of it. If this keeps up, then I'm afraid that the situation will get worse."

The anger and frustration was now apparent in the tone of his voice. The more of the problems he was revealing to him, the more disturbed he seemed to become. Hadji was clearly stunned by what he was witnessing in this confession. He never imagined that Jonny and Jessie would have this many problems with each other. They always looked so happy and always enjoyed being in each other's company. Maybe it is because the both of them are suppressing the problems they both feel that are in their relationship. Yes! That is probably it! "Jonny, I now see how the many problems between the two of you are increasing, but I feel that there is something that I must say regarding the situation today. When you had yelled at Jessie after logging out of Questworld, she did not return your harsh tone. She calmly replied that she was helping you. After you stormed out, she was not angry with you, but she was deeply hurt." As he spoke to Jonny, he could see that he was listening as closely and attentively as he possibly could. "I am not accusing you of anything because I understand that you have tolerated so much from Jessie. However, I must point out that Jessie did not yell back at you and that was, to quite an extent, a sign of maturity. She is older now, Jonny. She is nineteen, and that makes her more understanding. But also, from what she has experience since you both started becoming intimate, she has aged mentally. The reason why she did not become as harsh as you were was because she understood perfectly why you became angry with her for coming into Questworld. She would have been as upset if you had arrived during one of her battles with Francesca. You have to give her this much credit."

Jonny was taken aback by these last few comments Hadji made, and he realized that he was right. Jonny never thought of it this way. He turned his head away from Hadji and leaned back against the back window of the car. As he looked at the beautiful night sky and the stars shining brightly, he began to analyze the entire situation which the both of them have been discussing for the past hour or so. Hadji was waiting for his response patiently.

Jonny sighed. "Yeah you've got a good point, Hadji. Its just that, I want the both of us to try to work this out. I'm tired of some of the way things are between Jess and I. I just don't know what to do. I don't know how to talk to her about it, and I'm afraid that things would get worse between us if do have a talk with her about it."

"You have to at least give her a chance. You cannot be too sure about that." Hadji said.

Jonny sighed again. "I hope you're right, Hadj."

"You must be patient with her, Jonny. I know that it is not easy, but I know you can resolve the differences between the two of you." Jonny nodded solemnly.

* * *

Jonny and Hadji returned to the Quest Mansion around 7 PM that night. They had Mrs. Evans serve them dinner, then she left for the night. Afterwards, Jonny went up to his room to change into his pajamas. It was getting late and the day had physically and emotionally drained him. As he finished changing. he closed his room's lights, left the door slightly open, and sat on the love seat next to his bed. He was wondering how he was going to face Jessie tonight. Thinking in the dark gave Jonny some peace and comfort whenever he was depressed or hurt about something. From what Hadji had told him, he was not going to have a problem trying to patch things up with her tonight. She had become a lot more patient and understanding. At least, that was what Hadji had told him.

* * *

"CRYSTA ROBERTSON AND JESSICA BANNON AT THE FRONT DOOR." boomed IRIS's voice through the mansion.

Hadji raced for the door and opened it for his friends. Both Jessie and Crysta's arms were loaded with shopping bags he knew were full of clothes. He smiled at them both. Jessie seemed to be happier, although tired. Crysta grinned and winked at Hadji. A silent signal to say that things were going to get batter from here on out.

"Hey, Hadji, remind me next time to wear cross-trainers when I go shopping with Crysta? She's impossible."

"I didn't hear you complaining when I took you in that ONE store, Chica," Crysta teased.

"For THAT store, no. For the three hours of the others, yes."

Hadji shot a serious glance at Crysta as a signal that he wanted to talk to her privately. Crysta understood. She began loading Jessie's arms with the bags and ushered her towards the stairs. "Why don't you go put the stuff away. We have exams tomorrow and if I know you you're going to want to get a couple hours of studying tonight."

Jessie looked at both her friends in slight confusion. "I'd swear you were trying to get rid of me."

The Brooklyn native laughed. "You're paranoid, Chica. Now, go." and Jessie began to climb the stairs, heading for her room. Crysta turned to Hadji when Jessie disappeared from sight. "Well?"

Hadji had told her about the long conversation he had with Jonny at the cliffs. He told her about all the frustrations Jonny was going through in his relationship with Jessie. The stunned look on Crysta's face was ever present as finished giving her all the details.

"Geez! And I thought what they had was ultimate perfection. He told you all that?"

Hadji nodded. "Every intimate relationship has it's ups and downs. Jonny was suppressing all the anger and frustration that was building up from their relationship. Crysta, you have to give Jonny some credit. He has been trying to maintain a happy, secure relationship with Jessie, but she kept pushing his buttons to the point where he had reached his breaking point. It has taken a long time, but it has now happened."

"I know. And leave it to Jessie to know which buttons to press in him. I just can't believe Blondie managed to keep it hidden for so long. Do you think they'll fix this between them now?"

Hadji sighed. "I am afraid that this matter should be taken with extreme precaution. Jonny's mood is... How shall we say?... Extremely volatile. He has calmed down and he now returned to a more rational state, but I am thinking that we should not rush the process. However, we could at least try to have both of them talk again."

* * *

Upstairs, Jessie was finishing putting away her purchases when her mind shifted to her boyfriend. She hesitated putting the rest away, looking through her open door to Jonny's door directly across the hall. It was open just a crack as if in an invitation. She sighed. You have to get this done sooner or later, and sooner is better, she reasoned with herself. She left everything behind her and headed out to his room. Jessie just stood there, in front of his door, unsure of weather to push it open or knock first. You're stalling, her inner voice chided. Squaring her shoulders in defiance to the voice she gently pushed the door open. His room was dark save for the light of the thin crescent moon filtering through the window. It caught the blond of his tousled hair, catching her attention. He was just sitting there in his pajamas, staring at the floor, in a plush sofa chair. She didn't move, didn't make a sound. Jessie didn't want to disturb whatever deep thoughts he was in. She could only watch. Vaguely she wondered if he even knew she was standing there.

Jonny knew she was there. He could see her fiery red hair even through the dark. Her slender figure was perfectly outlined in the darkness by the moonlight. There was a look of tension and distress on her features as she slowly moved forward. Her breathing was heavy with each step she took. The closer she came towards him, the louder the breathing became. As she stood right in front of him, he slowly reached out his hand and held one of hers.

She squeezed it tight, never wanting to lose this simple physical contact with. She could feel tears burning her eyes in remorse. She knew she wasn't the cause of the fight between them, but she hadn't helped the situation either. Fighting the tears she took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," she breathed just loud enough so he could hear, her voice catching just a bit.

He wrapped an arm around her waist as he pulled her down to him. Sitting her across his lap, he held her as tight as he could as she buried her face into the crook of his neck. She wept softly and Jonny felt his heart ache at the very sound of it. He hated to see anyone cry, especially those he loved and cared for the most. Especially Jessie. "Jessie, please don't cry," he finally whispered. "You have nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one at fault. I'm sorry for what happened in the lighthouse today. I was the one out of line." He caressed her back in comfort while holding her tightly around her waist.

She held him tighter, not wanting him to take the blame. "No." she managed between tears. "I should've known why you didn't tell me what you were going to do there. You always have a good reason for doing anything. I'm so sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Jess. You were scared for me and that's understandable, but I didn't want you to be there because I didn't want you hurt. I didn't want to lose you. As I said, I should have been more understanding, and I'm very sorry to have taken this out on you."

"I was there because I didn't want to lose you. You may not like it, but I'll follow you into danger each and every time. I love you too much."

He kissed her gently on the forehead. "I know. I love you too and that is why I didn't want you to come." He sighed, pausing for a few moments. Finally, he spoke. "Jessie, look at me, Sweetheart."

She pulled back slightly, looking him right into his crystal clear blue eyes. These were the eyes she had lost herself in so many times before. "What is it?" she questioned carefully.

He looked deep into those beautiful emerald eyes and saw the pain he had caused her. "Jessie, I'm really sorry for blowing up on you, but one of the biggest fears that I have is losing the ones I love and care about the most. I already lost Mom."

She held him tight again. "So long as I never lose you, I'll always be at your side... for ever and a day." He gently cupped Jessie's face and carefully wiped the tears from her cheeks. She grinned shortly before a chuckle forced itself from her throat. "Always trying to take care of me." He chuckled with her before lightly kissing her lips.

"Can't help it."

She smirked. "Never could." Then she sighed. "Crysta's still downstairs. Maybe we should go down and reassure the troops?" she suggested.

He grinned in agreement and they left the room together, hand in hand. They walked close to each other, shoulder to shoulder, down the corridor, silent. They could hear Hadji and Crysta talking in the other room when the reached the bottom of the stairs. The conversation was about Jessie and Jonny, of course. All conversation stopped when Jessie and Jonny appeared in the doorway. Hadji smiled, pleased that his friends seemed to be on the road to reconciliation. Crysta merely grinned.

"Blondie! PJs! And baggy at that. You know what they say about baggy PJs? They're usually to hide a really big--"

"CRYSTA!" Jessie admonished.

Everyone in the room, but Jessie, roared with wild laughter. "Ego! I was going to say ego, I swear." she grinned like a Cheshire Cat. Jonny chuckled and sat in a sofa chair next to the roaring hearth, gently tugging at Jessie's arm to get her to sit as well. She settled onto his lap comfortably, holding him tight. Jonny wrapped his arms around her waist and squeezed her tightly. He took one of his hands away from her waist and began stroking her hair. Crysta continued to grin. "Must be quite a sensation sitting there, Chica?" she questioned coyly.

"I'm afraid to ask," Jessie smirked.

"Rod and reel comes to mind." she chuckled.

"What?"

"You have the reel, he's the rod."

Jessie grabbed a nearby pillow and threw it hard in her friend's direction. "You are SO horrible, Crys!"

"You better believe it. Oh, I know such a huge group of ladies who would just be dying to see you in PJs, Blondie. They'd kill to be where I am, and I'm going to kill them by telling them all the gory details of this very moment."

Jonny grinned slyly. "Well, they can fantasize about me all they want, but there is only one girl whose fantasies I'll make a reality. She's the one sitting on my lap." and he lightly kissed the base of Jessie's neck. A shiver raced down Jessie's spine from the admission and the kiss. His touch alone could do this to her. She was so turned on.

Crysta looked at them both for a moment, a wide grin on her face. "Fantasies? Sounds like a Sheherazade or a Dance of 1000 Veils deals. So, you guys mushy sweet?" Her grin became coy. "Or rough?"

Jessie began to blush fiercely, struggling to hide the crimson spreading across her face with her hand. She wasn't sure she knew how, or if she even wanted, to answer her friend. Jonny's grin became very seductive as he answered. "Depends on the occasion or the situation."

Jessie brought her lips close to his ear. "And what does this situation warrant?" she whispered.

"Wait till later tonight. It is a Friday night, you know?" he replied seductively.

"Gives me a chance to make everything up to you," she cooed softly.

He lightly kissed her on the lips. "No, I'm the one who will be making everything up to you."

"We'll just see about that," she whispered playfully menacing.

Crysta had watched the whole silent conversation with a wide smirk. "Hey, d'ya think we could be let in on the conversation?" she question, already knowing the answer.

Jessie laughed. "Not on your life, Crys."

Jonny had a huge grin on his face. "Privacy, Crysta."

The Brooklyn blond pouted with a grin. "Now where's the fun in that?"

Hadji interrupted their humorous interaction. "Ahem! I am very sorry to stop this friendly little debate between the three of you, but we have some more serious matters to discuss."

Crysta stiffened, suddenly going serious. "Oh, right, right. Fire away, Hadji."

He looke eluctant to tell Jessie about the anger and frustrations Jonny has been feeling for quite some time. This was because they were at the brink of exams, and he wanted both of them to concentrating on nothing else till they ended.

"Through Crysta and Jonny, yes, I know. I'm... not the easiest person to get along with, and I do push his buttons too often. But keep going, Hadj," Jessie encouraged.

Hadji's eyes met with Jonny's. The two looked at each other with a serious, almost tense, gaze. Both knew that the other could not tell the secrets Jonny revealed.

"Ever get the feeling we're being left out of some conspiracy?" Crysta grinned.

"We might, but we all have secrets. We shouldn't though, have secrets that is."

Crysta agreed. "It's fun to have them, but it all gets too much."

"The pain, too. They get kind of tiring after a while, carrying all that emotional weight around. I want everything out in the open, once and for all. No more secrets."

Hadji gazed directly into Jessie's eyes with such a serious look that it even shocked Jonny. "I am sorry, but the wishes of Dr. Quest and your father takes precedence over yours. They both made it clear to me that they want the both of you to concentrate on your exams and nothing else. Exams are next week, and you are to concentrate on nothing else until they are over. However, I will give you both some advice which the both of you must seriously consider." Hadji paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. Jessie and Jonny became solemn, understanding that the moment they would be alone with their fathers they would have to tell them the full extent of their relationship. Crysta merely sat by, silent, listening to every word that would follow to someday put it to use on her own. Looking at the two young lovers closely, Hadji began using his words carefully. "Every relationship has it's days of virtue and happiness, but it also has it's frustration and pain. A relationship that is based on passion alone will eventually self-destruct, pardon me for being so direct, and it will come to a very unpleasant end. Now today I have learned a lot about the problems involving your relationship. Fortunately, these are problems which can be solved. You must solve them through complete open and honest communication and the both of you must give each other some leeway. A relationship between couples is based on love, honesty, respect, even courtesy and compromise. The both of you have to give each other all of that." He paused for a moment as if in hesitation. "Both of you must select a time, after the exams, where there will be no distractions or interruptions. Again it must be done after the exams. You cannot do this before the exams because this is something which will require a lot of concentration, effort, time, and understanding in order to solve the differences between you. Now is definitely not the time. Crysta is my witness, I want the both of you to promise me that you will not mention a word about the problems within your relationship to each other, or anyone else, until the exams are over."

The young lovers had a long pause, mulling over what Hadji had just said. They looked at each other for the briefest moment before turning back to the young Sultan. ""We promise."" they said in unison.

"And not to worry, Hadj." Crysta piped up. "I`ll make sure the subject never comes up while they`re at school."

Hadji smiled. "I was about to turn to you just for that reason. Also, if other people are going to be discussing your relationship during school, then reveal positive information. Other than that, please do not discuss your relationship amongst yourselves until the exams are complete."

Crysta had to grin from a sudden though. "Ooo, propaganda! Love it!! But I don't think anyone will say anything. Blondie and Chica are so close most of the time that no one will really pay attention. Except maybe Craig and Ktrisha. They're always looking for a crack in the armor, so to speak. I'll run damage control with those two."

"I really don't think that will be necessary, Crysta. Those two really won't know the difference," Jonny said.

"Who are Craig and Ktrisha?" Hadji asked in wonderment.

Crysta sighed heavily. "Craig Waller is a snobby rich boy who's been after Jess since he first laid eyes on her. Ktrisha Aubry is one of Maya's many followers infatuated with Blondie here. They are both so clueless. Craig thinks that if he lays the charm on thick enough Jess'll start going out with him and Ktrisha thinks that if she pulls out all her sex appeal Jonny will start chasing her. Very vicious little circle here."

Jonny shrugged and said. "As long as the both of them don't do anything that could cause serious trouble I'm not worried about it. As I said, Crys, I don't think we should even give them a hint that something happened today. We'll just go about our business and let those two fools sulk about us all they want to." He grinned menacingly. "Besides, I kinda enjoy watching those two get pissed off for seeing us together."

Jessie brought her lips close to Jonny's ear again. "Make me want you all the more." she whispered seductively.

He grinned and, in turn, brought his lips close to her ear and replied just as seductively. "Likewise and we have tonight to prove it." He moved his head towards her neck again and kissed it gently.

She shivered pleasantly, holding him tight. "Did we really have a fight?" she mused softly.

"Hey, Hadj, have we somehow become invisible after all this?" Crysta suddenly quipped, surprising the young duo.

"Sorry, guys." Jessie apologized. "Our fights may be vicious, but I guess you could say they're in direct proportion to our make ups."

Crysta grinned menacingly. "Aha! Then that gives me the exact idea of just how far gone you two are." The entire group had to laugh.

Finally, Hadji spoke. "Even though the two of you are back to pleasant terms, just remember that you must discuss the problems between the both of you after the exams."

Jessie smirked. "How can we forget that when you keep drilling it into us. Remember, the only one who needs pushing to study is Bleach Head here." and she ruffled Jonny`s hair affectionately.

"And speaking of drilling, since exams are next week, you have to do some studying tonight," Hadji ordered.

Jonny let out a huge sigh of exasperation. "Aw, come on! Hadj!"

"No, Hadji's right, Hot Shot." Jessie added. "If I remember right, you told me you were have trouble in Physics class. At least get an hour, or so, of studying done." She lowered her voice, a seductive gleam in her eyes. "Then we can play."

"That reminds me." Crysta voiced, not having heard the last bit of the conversation. "I have Calculus gathering dust on my desk back home. Its been fun, kids." and she made a quick dash for the door to her car, followed by the good-byes of her friends.

Jessie and Hadji stood outside the door, watching the car pull away from the house, while Jonny stayed just within the door out of the cold. Guilt and some repressed anger still haunted his soul from earlier that day. He looked at Jessie and his heart began to ache. He leaned back hard on the entrance way wall, crossing his arms over his chest. He had hurt her emotionally, a scar that wouldn't heal easily... if it ever did at all. He knew she was putting up a brave front not to worry anyone. It was a good thing her back was to him or she would have seen the look of anguish that crossed his features. Then she turned to follow Hadji back into the house. Jonny forced a grin at them both, but Hadji knew better. He clapped his Stepbrother's shoulder giving him a look that said things would get better. Then he left.

Jessie stopped in front of Jonny, hugging her own sides slightly, staring at the carpeted floor. Neither said a word. The moment that had been so tender before had suddenly turned to a deep tension. They were unsure, quiet. All the things they had promised, all the words they had said, felt hollow, unreal all of a sudden. Had there really been feelings behind the words or had they been said out of habit? This had been their first, major, face-to-face fight since becoming lovers. She took her eyes away from the floor and looked at his downcast eyes. She could see the hurt he felt. She didn't know what to do. Carefully, hesitantly, she reach out a hand and pressed it to his cheek. A shaky sigh escaped his lips as his eyes closed. Jonny tuned his face into the palm of her hand, relishing this simple touch from her. Who knew when it would next happen after this? Tears touched Jessie's eyes as she moved closer to him. Timidly she kissed the corner of his mouth. Their eyes met when she pulled away.

She swallowed hard to push down the painful lump forming in her throat. "For everything I did, Jonny, I'm sorry." she voice in a bare whisper. Then, after a moment, she headed for the stairs.

"Jessie." he called, his voice sounding close. She turned to find he had followed her, now standing close to her. Their eyes met boldly. "It's not your fault." he told her gently.

"Then whose fault is it?"

"I don't know." he sighed at a loss.

There was another long, awkward pause. "What do we do now?" she finally thought to ask.

"Take Hadji's advice, I guess, and leave this topic until after the exams. He's right, you know."

The barest of grins tugged the corners of her lips. "Yeah, I know." The grin suddenly grew wider. "Annoying, isn't it?"

Jonny chuckled. "Yeah, it is." and they laughed together, softly. He smiled at her after a moment. "Help me with my Physics?"

She willingly returned the smile, glad to have found some neutral territory and an excuse to stay with him. "Sure. And if that doesn't work we can always try the osmosis thing again." and she laughed, beginning to climb the stairs.

He had to laugh, following her up. "You're a cruel woman, Jess."

They headed for his room, went in, and closed the door. Jonny sat Lotus-style on the foot of his bed while Jessie lounged back against the pillows propped up against the head of the bed. Long into the night he helped her by getting her Chemistry textbook and notes and quizzing her on creation rules, ionic and covalent bonds, and the mass calculation of moles. She, in turn, helped him understand Velocity and Gravity theories and quizzed him on Universal Constants and Energy/Mass relations.

Jonny suddenly wailed dramatically, flopping to his back. "I'm going to fail my exam!"

She chuckled at his antics. "No, you won't. It's easy if you stick to it."

"Right. This coming from the woman who averages a four point oh without even trying."

She nudged his side with her toes, causing him to twitch from her contact to a ticklish spot. "Don't sell yourself short, Hot Shot. How many guys in your shoes would be able to keep a three point eight four average four years straight?"

"Yeah, guess you're right." he muttered in a sigh. "I just can't seem to get this stuff to sink in."

"Well you have the entire weekend to get it to sink in. That should be more than enough time, even for you."

He rolled to his side again, facing her, and opened his mouth to say some witty in reply. He stopped and closed his mouth. He was just so awe struck at that moment. She was smiling softly, her incredible emerald eyes fixed on the textbook pages in her lap. The lamp on his night stand cast a soft yellow glow on her skin, catching the fires of her hair. Her moist lips seemed to glisten. His heart pounded from the sight. She felt his stare and looked up, immediately locking eyes with the azure of his. He grinned at her.

"What?" she asked, mildly confused.

"Nah, it's nothing." he admonished, beginning to turn away.

She closed the textbook to concentrate on him. "No, really, tell me."

He paused, then sighed heavily. He sat at the foot of the bed, his back to her. "I was just thinking, seeing you there, if we'd ever get the chance to pick up where we left off before this whole mess started."

"What we were talking about in the car?"

"Yeah. Wishful thinking, isn't it?" Jonny heard the rustle of fabric and assumed she shifted slightly since the bed moved as well. He felt her move closer to him, pressing herself to his back.

"Not that wishful." There was a pause. "I'm sorry." she breathed softly.

He shook his head with a small chuckle. "I told you before, Jess, it's not your fault. It's mine."

"Well I'm certainly not letting you take the blame." She suddenly sighed. "Tell you what, on three, I forgive you." He nodded. "One... Two... Three..."

""I forgive you."" they said in unison.

Both sighed heavily in relief. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off their shoulders. Jessie leaned her chin on his shoulder. She could smell the lingering odor of his aftershave and she breathed in deeply to keep it with her. They stayed this way for a moment, silent, before she finally frowned. His shoulders felt stiff, painfully so most likely.

"You're tense." she voiced.

"Must be the exams. I was never good at managing stress."

"Yeah, right." she chuckled sarcastically. "You can handle a killer adventure without a problem, but exams do this? Here, let me help." and she began to knead the muscles in his shoulders. He groaned a sigh as he seemed to melt under her hands. "Better?" she asked.

He smiled. "Mmm. Much."

"I could do a much better if you took off your shirt and lay down on your stomach." There was a smile in her voice as she told him this.

He chuckled as he shrugged out of his pyjama's shirt. "Talk about ulterior motives." When he began the move to turn onto his stomach at the head of his bed he caught sight of a bundle on the ground next to it. He frowned, curious, and reached down to it. It was a sweater and a pair of jeans. "What the...?" Jonny whirled around to face Jessie at a sudden thought. He couldn't stop the wide, surprised grin that crossed his face at the sight. She wore a green velvet nightie bordered in black lining. The thin straps on her shoulders were also black, as well as the lacing down her bodice to just below her navel. She was breathtaking. He propped himself up on his pillows almost casually and drank her in with a look halfway between passion and hunger. "Something you bought?"

"One of many." she cooed with seductive grin. "You like?"

He grinned lopsidedly. "On you, very much so, though I think I'd like it better in a pile on the floor." This caused her to giggle. "One of many, you say? Will I get to see the others?"

Jessie leaned in towards him. "Only if you behave." she breathed.

His fingers traced the length of her throat ever so gently. She moved closer still until her cheek rested on his heart. He sighed blissfully as he ran his fingers through her long fiery hair, holding her body close to his own. Jessie could hear the rhythmic pounding of his heart, a sound so soothing she felt the world could end but she would be safe so long as she heard his heart.

"Behaving is not something I'm terribly good at." he grinned into her hair. She chuckled softly, placing a gentle kiss on his chest before sighing. He looked down at her at the sadness he heard in the sigh. "What is it?"

She paused. "I want things back the way they were before this whole mess." She raised up to look in his eyes. "I want what we had back, where we weren't afraid to do or say something wrong because we didn't think it was possible."

"I'd say this is a pretty good start to getting back there." he grinned. Then he suddenly went serious, his love for her still shining in his eyes. "The moment will come back someday, Love. We just have to work it out."

"And until then?"

Jonny's grin became seductive, his tone of voice gruff as he toyed with the lacing of her bodice. "Until then, Pretty Lady, we take advantage of every moment that comes our way."

"Is this one of those moments, Lover?" she questioned coyly.

He tenderly cupped her face between his hands, pulling her towards himself. She felt his breath against her lips and shivered pleasantly in response. "What do you think?"

"I think I want you to make love to me." she breathed with a grin.

"Your wish is my command, My Lady." and he lightly tasted her lips.

The kiss was so gently, so light, it made her heart ache pleasantly. After a minute or so of letting him give her feather light kisses she began to return the tender embrace, lightly at first, then with more heat as his ministrations began to take effect. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing herself close. His worshiping hands traveled from her face to her shoulders, down her sides to just below her breasts. Jonny pulled her down next to himself, caressing her curves, never once leaving her lips. He began to tease her lips with his own, driving her wild. His fingers tugged at the laces of her bodice, gently easing the material away from the swell of her breast. His mouth left her lips to travel down the length of her throat to one of her exposed breasts. She cried out in pleasant shock when his warm mouth closed over the pebble hard nipple.

As he suckled from one nipple to the other her hands slid down the length of his chest to the hard bulge in his pyjama pants, caressing it gently, urgently. Jonny wanted to make love to her so much it was taking everything he had to hold himself back. He wanted to make the moment last, to nter. She arched up, a moan escaping her lips.

"Jonny..." she called out in barely a whisper.

He raised up to claim her lips, Jessie tasting her own salt on his mouth. It was thrilling. She was so ready for him she felt as if she was going to explode. She was mildly aware of him reaching towards his night stand, but she was aware that she grabbed that arm to stop him and pulled it away before he could do whatever he was going to do. Jonny seemed to hesitate at this. She was nearly blinded by her want for him. Her eyes half closed and glazed in arousal Jessie reach down and took hold of his stiff member, pulling him towards herself, guiding him into herself. The sound of his groan of pleasure excited her even more.

He made love to her so slowly, so tenderly, that it drove her to near madness. Jonny wanted to make this moment last as long as possible, wanted control, make her feel every exquisite sensation and delicious shiver. He gritted his teeth, fighting his own urges, making every thrust languidly slow. She clung to him as best she could as she writhed in sheer pleasure, her finger nails drawing strange patterns and hieroglyphs on his back. Jessie moaned and panted bits of phrases, pleading at times, encouraging at others. Her hands roamed freely everywhere on his body. The control he tried so hard to maintain was finally lost. He matched the rhythm of her hips, rocking ever faster and harder as she asked it breathlessly. An intense sensation suddenly flooded over them, a feeling like water with an electrical current running through it. They climaxed together, Jonny biting his lower lip hard, Jessie crying out in complete abandonment. Then, it was over.

Drained and exhausted they just lay there, breathing heavily. His lips were just barely touching the base of her neck, blowing warm air on her skin with each breath. She kept her limbs wrapped around him, to keep him inside herself, even when he rolled onto his side. Jonny cradled her close, caressing every soft curve of her body. She smiled, nestling her head under his chin, her cheek pressed to his warm skin, enjoying the all familiar and comforting intimacy they shared.

"That was amazing." she sighed blissfully.

He chuckled. "My way of apologizing for earlier today."

Jessie began to giggle suddenly. "If that's how you apologize to me then we should have fights more often. Do you know how much I love you, Jonny?"

"I got a pretty good idea a little while ago, Jess." A smile was in his voice.

She had to smile. "Well, I feel the need to tell you." Her expression went serious as she traced light patterns on his chest. "I love you so much it actually hurts when we're not together."

"I thought I was the only one to feel that." he admitted into her hair. "What do we do?"

She paused, collecting her thoughts. "We wait. We feel our way through. And we love for every second we have."

"You make it sound like it's all ending."

Jessie's arms tightened around him possessively. "Oh God, I hope not. I don't want it to."

Jonny's hold tightened as well. "Neither do I. I love you, Jessie."

"I love you, Jonny."

* * *

"Ow! Hey! Watch it with that stuff!"

"Oh, how the mighty fighter whines. It would hurt less if you stopped squirming so much, Race." Marie chided with a chuckle as she dabbed cuts and scratches with iodine. Benton tried not to laugh from across the kitchen.

Race shot him a hard stare. "Don't you start, Doc." he warned.

Struggling to keep a straight face Doctor Quest put his hands up in surrender. "I wouldn't dream of it." he managed before the laughter won out. Marie also got caught up in the laughter. "I think I'll do a comparative study showing how the most macho acting individuals are the ones who make the worst patients. Race, you can be the prime subject." This made Marie laugh even harder.

Race leapt to his feet. "Watch it, Doc. I understood that. An' I just have one thing to say to you about that." Benton and Marie fell silent, afraid their joke had gone too far. Suddenly a smile cracked Race's stoic demeanor from ear to ear. "I just better damn well be paid double."

Relieved, the two scientists began to chuckle. "Triple, Old Friend." Benton replied.

The ex-covert operations officer pretended to mull it over in his mind. "I can go with that."

"If that's settled then, sit down." Marie ordered Race, giving him a slight shove.

He did as told, knowing better than to argue with a French Canadian woman, and she resumed her work cleaning and disinfecting his injuries. He winced, but didn't complain this time. A thought suddenly occurred to him. "What time is it, Benton?"

Doctor Quest glanced down at his watch. "Almost four in the morning." He sighed heavily. "A night wasted."

"Four AM? That means it's about nine for the kids in Maine. Hadji should be up already."

"Knowing Hadji he was probably up at the crack of dawn. Earlier if there was trouble." He picked up his cell phone and, with the press of a button, dialed the Quest Compound's private secure line.

Then, after four rings, "Hello? Quest residence."

"Good morning, Hadji."

"Doctor Quest?"

"Yes. How is everything?"

"Calm, now. We had an attack through Questworld. The Lighthouse computers were completely destroyed, but we are... fine."

Benton caught the hesitation. "Hadji..."

"It is alright, that problem was solved for now... I hope. It was an argument between Jessie and Jonny, but they have resolved it. Did you call to check up on us?" There was a smile in his voice.

"That, and to know if you could possibly tear yourself away from fixing the Questworld systems and fly down here in one of the planes? We've decided to attack this virus from the technical angle, but we need our own computer expert here. Or, in this case, one of three."

"Of course. I can be there, counting refueling time in Edmonton, perhaps six hours from now."

"That would be perfect, Hadji. And you can tell us everything that happened then. See you in six hours, Son." and he hung up.

Race was looking at him expectantly as Benton set the phone down on the counter. Benton waved off the concern in his friend's eyes. "Hadji will explain it more in detail when he arrives, but it seems the lab here wasn't the only target Julia attacked. Questworld is off line."

"Are the kids alright?"

"Yes. As I said, Hadji will explain everything in more detail when he arrives."

Race smirked. "You know that makes me worry."

This caused Benton to chuckle. "Same here, Old Friend. I would say that falls well within the norm."

* * *

"Lorenzo, you idiot!" Julia screamed, striking the cringing man across the face. "It was a simple job. You, thirty men, guns, them, scattered guards, holed up in a lab, you shoot, you kill everyone, you leave, end of story. Even you couldn't botch that up, but somehow you managed to screw it up. And royally! Not only that, but you bring back Stanton half dead!"

"It wasn't my fault, Julia!" he tried lamely. "Quest took us completely by surprise with some new gadget and then Bannon came out for a charge and Stanton disappeared from sight and--"

"Enough! Act your age, Lorenzo."

A chuckle could be heard from a corner of the room. "Tsk, tsk. Never send a boy to do a man's job."

Julia looked up to see a grinning Kyle leaning against a table edge, Francesca tucked close to his side. They had been doing this a lot in the past day, hand holding, hugging, stolen kisses. Julia frowned. Emotions like that usually got in the way of rational thought.

"You think you can do better, Merrick?" she spat.

"Loads better. You see, your mistake was trying to go after Quest Senior. Where he is he figures he has nothing to lose. No, you have to go after his one weakness. His only, beloved Son."

Her frown grew deeper. "The boy?"

"Yes. Kidnap him, his attention shifts from the virus and the computers to getting his Son back. Kill him, and the old man falls to pieces."

"I like that idea." came Surd's voice from the shadows. The all turned to him as he wheeled in. "Yes, Doctor Quest loves that boy more than his own life. It's his only memory of his dear departed wife. But, tell me, Merrick. How do you plan to do this?"

"Just give me a fueled plane and about a day, and I can fix it so Lizard Boy is out of the picture."

Surd looked at him hard for a moment. "Done. Lorenzo, prepare the plane. Young Merrick is about to make our lives so much easier."

* * *

Jonny woke to a weight high on his chest and a wet tongue licking madly at his face. A distinctive whining accompanied this. He winced, turning his head, swatting the offender away.

"Ugh! Bandit, enough!" he groaned softly, pushing the small dogs face away from his own. "You know, I really need to do something about your breath, boy."

Bandit merely cocked his head, tongue lolling out, seemingly grinning at him.

"And you have no idea what I'm saying, do you? No offense taken."

Bandit looked over to Jonny's right and shut his mouth. The little dog looked puzzled. Jonny looked too and smiled. Jessie was facing away from him, the covers just barely over her hip, still asleep. He chuckled softly.

"Get used to it, boy. This might be a regular occurrence sometime in the future." and he scratched him behind the ear.

There was a light knocking at the door. Jonny could barely make out Hadji standing in the hall there, looking slightly nervous. "Is it safe?" Hadji asked.

"Shh!" Jonny hissed, gently pulling the blankets up to cover Jessie's naked form as Bandit moved to lie at the foot of the bed. "Yes, c'mon in."

As silent as a cat Hadji entered the room and brought the chair from the desk to the bedside, straddling it. He was grinning at the sight of his Brother and Jessie in the same bed. "So, I see you and Jessie have made up." he whispered not to wake the still sleeping Jessie.

Jonny shrugged with a grin. "Make up, make out. All the same to me when it comes to Jess. What's up?"

He chuckled softly before answering. "Father just called. It seems he found a different plan of attack for the virus in British Columbia. I believe he will try to repair the computers first."

"Makes sense. Fix the computers and then use them to find a cure. But... why would Dad call just to tell us that?"

"Because I am leaving to join him and Race immediately. He needs one of us there to help, and seeing as I am the only one not presently engaged in studies for midterms, I was the logical choice."

Jonny suddenly smirked. "Spock." he accused.

Hadji chuckled softly. "Perhaps. Do you believe you two will be alright?"

"Sure. Studying and fixing Questworld will keep us busy enough for the weekend. We'll see you in a week then."

"Indeed." and he stood. "Give my best to Jessie when she wakes."

"Will do, buddy. Safe trip." and Hadji left the room, closing the door just enough to allow Bandit to leave if he wanted.

Jonny lay there for a long moment, staring at the ceiling, listening to the thick silence until he heard the house's front door open then close. Hadji was gone. He turned his head to the back of Jessie's head, her flame red hair glowing in the morning light. With a blissful grin he rolled over to mold himself to her back, an arm wrapped around her waist. He heard her inhale deeply when he kissed the side of her neck. She pressed back against him, turning slightly to smile at him.

"'Morning, Jess." he greeted softly with a lopsided grin.

"Morning, Lover. What time is it?"

"Almost ten."

"Mmm, still too early." she mumbled as she turned completely, wrapping her arms around his torso, nestling her head under his chin. "I don't want to get up."

"You don't have to." he offered, the smile all too clear in his voice.

She chuckled. "Much as I'd love to stay... but Hadji will need us in the Lighthouse soon to help him fix the Questworld system."

"No, he won't. He's flying up to BC in a bit. He just left the house."

She pulled back slightly in shock. "What? Why?"

"No, it's okay, Jess. Dad just needs him to fix the computer systems over there."

Jessie looked skeptical. "You sure?"

"That's what Hadji told me."

"When did he have the time to tell you all this?"

Jonny grinned, looking down at her, his cheek resting on his knuckles. "Would you believe an hour ago? Don't worry, he didn't see anything he wasn't supposed to. Besides, you looked like you were sleeping so well."

She smiled. "That I was. I always seem to when you're sleeping next to me."

He smirked as he toyed with the sparkling green locket at her throat. "You know from where that dates back."

She touched his locket, a reminiscent smile on her lips. "Seems so long ago." His hand closed over hers, bringing her fingers to his lips ever so tenderly. Her smile became coy. "So, what are your plans for today?"

He chuckled as he rolled to his back again. "Well, after last night, I was just going to lie here and hold you and never let go."

"I like the sound of that." Jessie grinned, propping her chin on his chest. The glinting of foil on his night stand suddenly caught her eye. She looked and her smile fell away as she raised her head up. "Jonny, I thought... I mean, didn't we..." She couldn't finish her sentence, merely indicating the untouched condom packet on the night stand.

"Uh... You were, um, kind of insistent last night. It was safe, right? I mean, you said you had birth control... right?"

"Yes, I just thought..." She shook her head and smiled at him. "Forget about it. Why ruin the moment."

"And what moment would that be, Ace?" he grinned playfully.

She laughed softly. "Are you aiming to get started?"

"Oh, you bet!" he laughed. "But like you said, we have work to do in the Lighthouse."

She sighed heavily. "Remind me to write Surd a bill for all the damage he's caused."

"Think he has enough money to pay for all that?" he snickered.

"I don't think anyone in the world has enough money to do that." she laughed. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her ear to his heart. "I don't want to get up just now. But Questworld won't fix itself." she groaned as she flopped to her back.

Jonny reached down to the floor where his pyjama lay in a heap. "Wouldn't it be great if it could?"

"A project to work on for a rainy day." was her reply.

Under the cover of his blankets he managed to get his pyjama pants on. Then he stood and stretched his arms high above his head, waking further. He turned to Jessie who hadn't moved, her eyes once again closed. "Up and at 'em, Jess."

"You go. I'm just going to stay here. Too comfortable."

He chuckled as he started for the door, putting on his pyjama top as he went. "C'mon, Jess. Mrs. Evans is probably already downstairs waiting." He stopped at the door to lean back on it and look at her. "If we're not down there soon she'll come hunting for us and I can just imagine her reaction to finding you here like that."

She smirked a small frown, arching an eyebrow to him. "Like what?" she probed playfully.

Jonny gave her a good long look, grinning lopsidedly, before pushing off the wall and walking towards her. "Naked. Beautiful." He leaned down towards her, his hands at either of her head, his grin becoming sly. "Aroused."

Jessie giggled, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Very aroused."

Their lips met in a deep, searching embrace before Jonny pulled back just enough so their lips would still brush. "You really should get up." he breathed.

"What if I don't want to?" she pouted.

He pulled back to looked down at her with a menacing grin. "Then I'll just leave you to explain just what you're doing here like this to Mrs. Evans when she walks in. Something she'll immediately tell your Dad."

"That's blackmail, Quest." she chuckled.

His expression went serious. "He's going to find out about us when all this is over anyway. Better if it comes from us."

She frowned at this. "You're planning on telling him?"

"Kind of have to. Dad knows." he admitted.

Shock passed over her features, her eyes going wide. "How...?"

"Long story. I'll explain it to you when we fly up in a week. One of many things we have to talk about."

"I'll want all the details."

"And I promise to give them. Now, get up, get dressed. We have work to do today."

* * *

Hadji walked across the snow-free tarmac of the airport towards a large hanger. On the side of this building was a large stylized Q, Quest Technology Enterprise's company logo. He could see a number of men working in and out of the hanger in their orange jackets and caps, typical airport personnel clothes.

One man, his hair graying around his temple area, approached Hadji with a broad smile. "Plane's all ready and fueled up, Your Sultan-ship." he greeted with a salute.

Hadji chuckled. "I have told you before, Marcus. Call me Hadji. What of the second plane? Jonny and Jessie will be taking that one at the end of the week."

"All serviced and fueled, Mister Hadji, sir. Had my new mechanic pr l Mike gets better."

"Well, if you believe you can trust him--"

"Oh, now, I never said that, Mister Hadji, sir. He can get the work done, that's fine. Do I trust him? There's a different story."

"Then keep an eye on him. We can have Doctor Quest do a more thorough investigation of this man when we return. Satisfactory?"

"Very much so, Mister Hadji. You have a safe trip now."

"I will, Marcus." and he shook the old man's hand firmly.

Hadji then boarded the small Cessna, performed all the necessary checks as he taxied out of the hanger to the runway, and then was off. Marcus watched the plane disappear into the sky as one of crew hands walked out of the hanger, his hat pulled down low to hide his eyes.

"You better have that second plane in tip top condition by the end of the week, K.C."

"It'll be ready, boss."

"Good. The Boss's kid will be using that one. It has to be ready for him when he comes." And to that Marcus walked away.

The man pushed the hat up slightly to reveal a pair of piercing grey eyes and an evil looking smile. "Oh yeah. It'll be ready for Lizard Boy." he sneered.

* * *

The Lighthouse computer lab was a horrible mess. Burnt wires and circuitry lay strewn all over the floor, face plates to processing units were hanging by their hinges, all carbon scored. Next to an open panel lay a large tool chest with it's pieces thrown about it haphazardly. Jonny was nearly completely through the panel, checking the circuits and circuit boards. He was taking inventory of the damage, with Jessie taking notes on her laptop not far away.

With a grunt Jonny yanked a circuit board out of it's slot and looked at it with slight tired frustration. "Slave motherboard, QTE designed Pentium III. Resistors, melted. Ceramic chip, cracked. Another one good for the recycling bin." and he tossed it aside. "How many does that make so far?"

"Six video cards, four sound cards, twelve slaved motherboards, five hard drives, and two hundred thirty four 32 Meg SIMMs. You want a monetary total too?" she sighed.

"No, I think I can guess. Good thing this is going on the company account. God, what a mess."

"We're not fixing it all today, are we?"

"Not with the exams on Monday. Let's say we work on this until Mrs. Evans calls us in for supper, then we'll study the rest of that day."

Jessie smirked. "That unusually intelligent of you."

Jonny chuckled as he reached further into the entrails of the large computer. "I just want to see if I can get a higher exam average than you."

Her smile grew wider. "Is that a challenge I hear?"

"Just getting back to basics." he shot back, a smile in his voice.

She had to laugh, looking at her watch. "And you decide this an hour before supper."

He jerked in surprise, banging his head on a circuit shelf inside the panel. He cursed and emerged from the opening, rubbing his head, then looked at Jessie. "You mean we've been at his for eight hours?"

"Time flies when you're concentrating on a job at hand." She saw him look at his fingers, at the touch of blood on them. "Let me have a look at that." and she held her hand out to him. She pulled him to his feet and steered him towards one of the chairs. Carefully she parted his hair around the injury. "You're lucky you have such a hard head. It's not deep."

"Lucky me." he groaned sarcastically.

"Don't move." She retrieved the lab's first aid kit and gently applied a piece of gauze moistened with disinfectant to the cut. He hissed from the stinging. "Sorry." she apologized, lightening her touch. "Maybe we should take this last hour as a break."

He nodded. "It'll give me a chance to nurse this bump. That's what I get from poking around inside a computer with too many sharp edges."

"Better a circuit board than a knife." Jessie stated as she put the kit away.

"Good point." He put on his coat and helped Jessie on with hers.

She looked at the room before leaving. "Should we really leave this mess without at least trying to clean it up?"

He gave the room a once over before shaking his head. "This will wait. Besides, we have a week to clean it up." and he ushered her out of the lab into the cold early evening air. He kept an arms wrapped around her waist. After their fight he didn't want her to be away from his side for a moment. "If we finish the inventory tomorrow I can put in a request for the replacement parts at QTE and have them by Wednesday. From there we'll be finished fixing the system by Thursday."

"Does that count studying time?" She smirked suddenly. "Or are you just anxious to get a rematch with Merrick?"

He frowned. "Do you even have to ask that?"

"Hey, cheer up, will you. We'll get that rematch, only this time it'll be on our terms."

Jonny looked at her suddenly, stopping halfway to the house. "Jess, I don't want you there this time."

She stopped to turn to him. "Jonny, we've gone through this last night. I'm going in with you whether you like it or not." and she turned to continue walking.

He took her arm to stop her, forcing her to face him. "I don't like it. Jess, this is personal between Merrick and myself. I want to end this whole mess once and for all and if I can do this without the risk of you getting hurt then I will. Besides, I need someone to match the coding of whoever it is they have at the other end." He gently cupped her face between his hands. "Please, until this is over, promise me you'll stay out of this fight." She looked him in the eye for a moment before lowering her eyes in defeat, nodding silently. He wrapped his arms around her waist, one hand pressed between her shoulder blades, to press her tight against his chest. "Thank you, my Love." he breathed into her hair.

She clung to him tightly. "Just don't you get yourself killed."

He smiled gently. "I promise." and they continued into the house.

A sudden thought hit her as Jonny helped her off with her coat. "You go on ahead and see what Mrs. Evans is cooking. I have to go check on something." She headed for the stairs up to her room. Did I or didn't I? came her questioning thought. Jessie entered her room and went straight for her night stand's drawer, opening it. She froze, staring inside it. There was the small pink disk with the tiny colored circles around the edge. Each had a letter of the week above it. From Saturday's S to Tuesday's T, the slots were empty, but where the slots should have been empty the days following Tuesday the slots still contained their contents. A look of dread crossed her features as she sat heavily on the edge of her bed. Oh, God! I didn't take them! She thought back on the last two days in utter dread. The chance was there, a chance she didn't want to happen.

Not yet.

Please, God, don't let me be--

"Jess?" Her head snapped up in surprise to find Jonny standing in her doorway. "You okay?"

"Um... Yeah." She quickly closed the drawer and stood in front of it. "Yeah, I'm fine."

He looked unconvinced, but thankfully didn't press the subject. "Mrs. Evans says dinner's just about ready and Crysta just called. She's coming over with Todd to study with us."

Jessie smirked as they began walking back to the stairs. "She's probably coming over to check up on us."

He chuckled. "Probably. So, what was in the drawer?"

Inwardly she winced, but smiled enigmatically at him. "Ask me again someday."

* * *

"So what do you think, Hadji?" Doctor Quest asked after a long moment.

Hadji rubbed his chin thoughtfully at the complex jumble of coding scrolling on the computer screen before him. Since he had arrived two hours earlier he had been immersed in computer terminology and technology, trying to find a way to purge the systems of this virus or find a way to circumvent it.

"I recognize certain fragments of this virus by the way it is attacking the system, but the rest is new to me. Is there a downloaded version on diskette?" he asked, turning to the other computer specialists assembled.

These three men simply looked at each other, confused and more than a little embarrassed. "We... never thought about doing that." one admitted sheepishly.

"Obviously." Hadji muttered as he picked up a CD and popped it into the CD burner.

Doctor Quest had the hardest time trying to hide his grin from the indignant looks from the so-called computer experts assembled. With a few quick and practiced key strokes the CD burner whirred to life as the information was burned onto the CD. Then, pulling out his laptop, Hadji inserted the CD in the CD ROM and called up the virus in text version. Complex coding in DOS script scrolled on the screen. He stared hard at the screen with Doctor Quest and the three computer technicians looking over his shoulder.

One of the technicians shook his head in awe. "Michelangelo, Jumper B, all this is DOD material... This Julia lady did her homework and managed to incorporate all the major computer viruses into one with only a few nasty additions of her own."

"Do not disillusion yourself, sir." Hadji began with a frown. "Julia is far from being a lady."

"So, do we attack each individual component?"

Hadji shook his head. "Each component will cover for the others that are attacked and will activate, causing even more trouble than now. No, we have to purge the systems of the virus as a whole somehow. And the sooner the better. The more time we spend on this the higher the death toll will reach."

* * *

Crysta tapped her pencil on the pad of paper before her, mainly at the equation scribbled on it. She frowned at it in frustration for a moment more before leaning back in her chair. She looked across the magnificent oak table in the Quest Mansion's library to Jonny who was busy scribbling away in his notebook.

"Hey, Blondie?" He looked up at her question. "Question thirty two, I got forty five miles per second."

Jonny flipped a few pages back and scanned for the question. "Umm..." He frowned, confused. "How'd you get forty five? I got ninety two."

"No, I really think it's supposed to be forty five."

"I don't think so. Jess?" Jessie, who was sitting at his right, turned to him. "Arbitrate?" and he handed her his notebook.

She grinned, amused, looked it over quickly, then took Crysta's to check over as well. "Sorry, Crysta. Jonny's right on this one. It's supposed to be ninety two."

"Aw man!" she wailed.

"Hey, how about we take a break." Todd stated, speaking for the first time in hours. He was seated at Crysta's left. "What time is it anyway?"

Jonny stretched tiredly, trying to work the kinks from his neck. "Almost midnight. We probably didn't notice time fly since Mrs. Evans brought us that snack tray and never came back for it. She's probably gone by now." Seeing him rub the back of his neck in slight pain, Jessie came to sit on his chair's armrest and carefully began to work the stiffness from his shoulders. Jonny closed his eyes with a relieved groan, leaning back against her. "God, Jess, you have no idea how good that feels." he breathed.

She chuckled softly, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, leaning her chin on his shoulder. "You can return the favor later tonight." she breathed in his ear. "It was the least I could do, you were just so stiff." she finished more loudly. Crysta snorted, trying to stop the laughter. Her three friends looked at her in confusion at this sudden outburst. "What?"

Crysta grinned. "Stiff."

Jessie, Jonny, and Todd responded by quickly grabbing blank sheets of paper, crumpling them up, and launching them at Crysta. This one shrieked in laughter and cringed from the onslaught.

"Todd, can't you do something to get her mind out of the gutter?" Jonny laughed.

Todd wrapped his arms around Crysta, giving her a tight hug. "Not on your life, Quest Man. Dirty and horny, that's how I like her." and he kissed her neck.

Jessie had to laugh. "Just the kind of answer I'd expect to hear from the Dennis Rodman wannabe."

Todd hadn't heard a word, busy nibbling at his girlfriend's neck. Jonny crumpled a sheet of paper into a ball and threw it at them. "Get a room!" he smirked at them.

Crysta grinned menacingly. "Fine. We'll take yours."

"No, that's off limits for that." he chuckled.

Jessie frowned a grin down at him. "Is it?"

He looked up at her with a gentle smile. "For them, yes. For us, never."

She chuckled. "Good, or else last night was illegal." and she gripped his shoulders gently, rhythmically squeezing and releasing his still sore muscles.

He grinned blissfully, feeling himself melt under her tender ministrations. "Last night was illegal, Jess... in fourteen states."

"I take it you two made up then?" Crysta thought to ask with a Cheshire Cat smile.

The lovers merely grinned playfully. ""Make up, make out..."" They looked at each other suddenly before beginning to laugh.

"I thought that was supposed to be my line, Jess." he laughed.

"Patent it and it can be yours." Then she looked across the table to their friends. "We... came to an agreement, for the time being. We are going to sit down and have a long talk about it all, but just not now. It's too soon and our timing is sort of off because of the exams."

"We're taking it one step at a time now." Jonny continued. "Almost as if we're starting over. There's a lot to think about, a lot to say and work out. And we will work it all out." He looked up at Jessie. "We will." She nodded in total agreement. He then looked at his two friends again with a menacing grin. "But if you two are still looking for a room here there are ten other guest rooms here."

Crysta shook her head with a small grin. "No. Call me old fashion, but, preferably, I want to wait until after I'm married before that happens. Though I might change my mind someday. You never know. Depends how I feel some time from now."

"And you'll wait that long, Todd?" Jonny thought to ask.

"You bet. Like minds... and all that. Um... indiscrete question?"

"Never stopped you before."

"Ha, ha, Quest. But seriously, in hindsight, um..." Todd began to hesitate. "Would you and Jess have waited... to... you know...?"

Jessie sighed a smirk at her lover. "When did this conversation turn so heavy?"

He chuckled. "At stiff." He turned back to his friends across the table from him. "In hindsight?" Jonny leaned back against Jessie, shaking his head in a negative. "I wouldn't have done anything different. In fact it might have all happened sooner than it did."

Jessie played with his hair gently. "Halloween?"

"You know of another night like that one?" he smirked.

Their two friends suddenly burst into laughter. The lovers looked to them in confusion. Crysta struggled for breath, trying to regain her composure. "Sorry... sorry..." she apologized between fits of laughter. "It's just... you two offered us a room, but we're wondering who really needs the room right now."

"God!" Jonny groaned. "Hey, Todd, why don't we let the ladies cool off for a while. I need help in the garage." and he stood. Jessie stayed seated on the armrest of his chair.

"For what?" Todd asked, also standing.

"I need Race's tool chest to continue the salvage job on Questworld, but it easily takes two to carry it. I need it in the Lighthouse."

Todd suddenly snapped his fingers, his face taking on an air of enlightenment. "I just had a wild idea, Quest Man. Crys and my folks know we're here and I'm sure they won't mind about this. How about we stay for the rest of the weekend? I mean, you already offered the room. And we can help with your salvage job all the while cramming for the exam on Monday." Crysta nodded in agreement.

Jonny and Jessie looked at each other at this. He shrugged. "Mrs. Evans won't mind. What do you think?"

"I think that orange dye added a few more brain cells in his head. I like that idea. Besides, it would give us someone else to talk to."

A slight confused frown creased his forehead. "What, you saying our conversations are dull?"

She smiled impishly, taking one of his hands to pull him closer to herself. "No, but you know what direction we eventually end up taking with those."

He chuckled, relaxing as she nuzzled her face against his chest, her arms snaking around his waist. "Ah yes. That." He sighed, carefully tangling his fingers through her hair. "So, are we pulling an all-nighter or are we cleaning up before bedtime?"

"Cleaning up before bedtime. Too much work in one day isn't healthy, especially before the exams. You guys go move Dad's tools while Crysta and I clean up here."

"That sounds like a plan, Ace." He gently tugged at her hair to get her to look up at him. When she did he placed a tender kiss on her smiling lips. "Keep the home fires burning." he told her.

"Bright and hot, just for you." was her soft reply.

Giving her a final smile he left with his friend Todd in tow. A blissful sigh escaped Jessie's lips as she stood and began helping Crysta gather together all the textbooks and notebooks scattered on the table. For each of their names they made neat piles in front of their places.

"So..." Crysta began carefully. "How did everything go I forgot to take them."

Crysta's jaw dropped slightly. "You what?"

"I forgot to take them."

"But... but you and Blondie were smart, right? You used... you know... right?"

She sighed heavily. "No, we didn't."

Crysta sat heavily in her chair, completely stunned. "Oh, Jessie... Is it possible you could be...?"

"I don't know. I am due within the next few days, we'll know then. Maybe I'm not. I mean, maybe it didn't take. Maybe..."

"That's a lot of maybe's, Chica. How could you, of all people, forget?"

"Well, it's still kind of new to me. It hasn't become routine yet. It's not like I forgot on purpose. And we were caught up in the moment so it was kind of easy to forget about the protection."

"Things got out of hand?" she smirked.

Jessie grinned shyly. "You could say that. I know for a fact last night was my fault for not using protection." She blushed. "Jonny says I was pretty insistent."

"Ah, enthusiasm. Let it take control and anything can happen. Jonny doesn't know yet about you not having taken the pill for the past three days, does he?

"No, he doesn't. I'm not sure I want to tell him. If I'm not... you know... then I don't have to tell him."

"But what if you are?"

"Then I'll tell him and we'll work it out. That, and find a way to tell my Dad."

"He's not going to like this, your Dad that is. But, you want to know something, Chica? I could see you as a Mom."

Jessie's eyes went wide. "Really?"

"Oh yeah! You have this natural Mother's Instinct when it comes to kids. When it happens you and Blondie will be incredible parents. You guys have such a capacity to love."

Jessie thought about it and a smile curled up the corners of her lips. When she had first realized how deeply in love she was with Jonny the thought of having a child, his child, often popped up in her mind. The idea both intrigued and frightened her.

His child. Jonny's and her child.

Would it really be that bad...?

* * *

"Okay, Todd, we can put it down right here." Jonny informed his friend.

After putting down the massive tool chest the orange haired basketball player looked around the Lighthouse's computer lab. Circuitry and circuit boards were everywhere, either cracked or carbon scored.

"Man, this place is a mess!"

Jonny looked around dispassionately. "Was worse earlier this morning."

"What happened?"

"You remember me telling you about Surd and his cronies?"

Todd frowned. "Didn't you say the wacko got his mind stuck in the system? Don't tell me he got out."

"Okay, I won't tell you."

"And he did this?"

"No, one of his cronies did. Planted a cyber-bomb that fried everything."

Todd went over to an open panel and peered in. "Lot of damage. Hope IRIS wasn't damaged along with this."

"IRIS is fine. It's all limited to the Questworld systems. We still have the portable systems, but the main one is shot."

"Good thing your Dad's loaded. I can just imagine the bill to fix this thing."

"Wait until my Dad sees it." He picked up the laptop Jessie had been working with and called up the inventory list. Then he handed it to Todd. "Most of this stuff is state of the art and some of it experimental." He picked up a circuit board absently and frowned. "All of it trashed."

Putting all his strength behind it, Jonny threw the circuit board at a carbon scored panel, causing what circuitry was still active inside to spark. Todd waited a moment, letting his friend recollect himself after this display of frustration.

Then, bracing himself, "So, this is what started the fight between you and Jess?"

"No--" His head snapped up. "How did you know about that?"

"Crysta. She can never keep anything from me. What did start it?"

He sighed heavily. "Merrick. While Hadji was in Questworld, Merrick attacked him to free Surd's mind. He issued a challenge. You know me and challenges, can't resist. I didn't want Jessie to be there because I didn't want to risk her getting hurt. I was mad at Merrick, not Jess... I lashes out at the first person there. It could've been Hadji, he would've understood, but Jessie... I didn't want her hurt and I was the one who ended up hurting her. I can never forgive myself for that." he ended softly.

"One of the perils of living your lives, Quest Man."

"I'd gladly give all that up for a normal life."

"But think about it. If you did live a normal life like you call it, would you have met Race, or Hadji, or even Jessie?"

Jonny thought about it. "No, I guess not."

"Then where would you be?"

He shrugged at a loss. "You're right. But it doesn't make it hurt any less."

"Well, if it didn't hurt, we'd be doing it everyday without remorse. Don't worry, the girl's nuts about you. When she's ready, she'll forgive you."

"Patience. Something the world knows I'm not good at." He paused. "But, for Jessie, I'll wait. I want to. I have to."

* * *

Race looked up from his security report to the large pile of papers still sitting before him on the table. He sighed. He was used to this aspect of his job, assuring that every precaution had been met to insure the safety of his employer and friend, but he had never once believed anyone would have braved the cold and treacherous waters around Simoom Sound to reach this compound. And yet Lorenzo had. The pile before him was the result of Lorenzo's attack. Injury reports and death notifications. All of them he had to review and then sign, admitting his responsibility. This was the part of his job he hated. He could put up a front for everyone else, to be the rock in these situations, but each time someone under his command died a part of his soul went with them.

He looked across the table to where Benton and Marie were busy going over some medical notes. Their voices were hushed so as not to disturb anyone, but he could tell their conversation was heated in debate. Sometimes he wished he understood all the medical mumbo jumbo they used to be of some help, or at least know what they were talking about. Then he turned to Hadji, mainly to the bruises around his eyes. Ever since the young Indian Native had arrived from Maine he had deftly tiptoed around the subject of the injuries. Race put his report down and turned his complete attention to Hadji.

"So, you finally goin' to tell us how you got that shiner?" Race suddenly asked.

Hadji's head snapped up from his laptop, a look of surprise on his face. He hesitated momentarily, looking at Benton and Marie as if trying to come to a decision, then back at Race in resolve. "I do not... I... I am most hesitant to tell you about recent happenings back home." he stated rather timidly.

"It can't be that bad, Hadji." Doctor Quest urged with a small chuckle in hope.

Hadji shook his head, turning to his adoptive Father. "It is, Doctor Quest. It most certainly is." He indicted his own face, to the dark blue and black patches all over his face. "This is the proof. This is from Kyle Merrick in Questworld."

Race nearly leapt to his feet. "What!?"

"You heard correctly. Kyle Merrick. He and Francesca Hamilton have retrieved Surd's mind from where Jessie had locked it away in Questworld."

"Surd is free?" Benton asked incredulously.

"Now, yes."

"Great! That's just what the world needed!" Race exclaimed.

"There is more, I'm afraid."

"Figured as much."

"Please, continue, Hadji." Doctor Quest urged.

"I had gone into the Questworld programs as a result of a glitch in the system I found during a check. I know, it was foolish to log in alone, but the glitch had turned out to be a hound program. I found Surd shortly before Merrick and Francesca arrived. He took me by surprise. Merrick issued a challenge through me to Jonny while he was there. Jonny responded by logging into Questworld to fight him, Jessie followed. Initially he hadn't told her he was going. He didn't want the risk of her being injured. He has become quite protective of her."

"Why's that?" Marie interjected suddenly.

Benton was the one to answer, sighing heavily at the memory. "Almost three years ago, while in Cairo, Jessie and Jonny were attacked. She was brutally beaten to the point of near death while Jonny received only a bump on the head. He took it hard, blamed himself for it all. To add to that, a year ago, Jessie was struck by a hit and run driver in downtown Rockport. She was in a coma for seven months and two months in physiotherapy. This was shortly after they had started going together as a couple. Jonny never left her side for a moment, like in Cairo."

"Poor Jonny."

"I don't think he ever quite got over it all." Race spoke for the first time. "Lord knows I haven't, but I'm her Father. I'm supposed to be that way."

"But, from what you told me, Jonny loves her deeply." Marie countered. "He's going to continue to feel the guilt until he can be absolutely certain he can protect her from the world."

"Any world." Hadji continued. "Something both he and I nearly failed to do yesterday. Surd's computer hacker expert on the other end sent a cyber-bomb which destroyed all of Questworld's system. I nearly did not get them out in time. But I did and this bomb forced Jessie and Jonny to forfeit their battle..."

He hesitated. Benton noticed. "What is it, Hadji?"

He frowned in consternation. "I am finding it most difficult to state this last part and I do not know why."

"Just take a deep, collect your thoughts, and just say it." Marie smiled gently.

Hadji did as suggested, taking a deep breath. "They forfeited their battle in Questworld... and that is when they had their fight." he ended in a hushed voice.

Race leaned back heavily in his chair, a disbelieving sigh escaping his lips. Benton just shook his head. Marie could hardly believe what she was hearing. The young boy who had saved her life so long ago, who had showed such compassion and caring, had yelled at his own girlfriend out of anger.

Jonny? Yell at someone? No, that can't be right. He would never...

"How bad?" the elder Quest asked carefully, breaking into Marie's thoughts.

"They came to the brink." Then, at the sudden flash of anger he saw in Race's eyes, "He yelled at her for only a second, then they avoided each other for the rest of the evening." This seemed to calm Race down marginally. "Crysta and I managed to get them talking to each other by the end of the day, but only slightly. They have agreed to wait until after their exams to really work things out. From what I have heard separately from each of them, they have a lot to discuss."

Benton leaned back with a small grunt. "I suspect they do, together, and with their Fathers."

* * *

Crysta yawned loudly as she walked, stretching her arms high above her head. She wore one of Jessie's extra nightshirts she had been lent to wear for the night while Jonny had lent an extra pyjama to Todd to wear. These normal clothes looked strange on the two eccentrics. They had met outside Jessie and Jonny's rooms after changing, being across the hall from each other, and now walked down the hall to the empty guestrooms. Before that they had spent some time in the Family Room downstairs just talking about anything and everything in general. When the old stand-up Grandfather Clock had struck two the small group decided it was late enough.

"Gab-fests are fun and all, but this pretty much guarantees that I sleep well until noon." the eccentric blond mumbled tiredly.

Jessie chuckled softly. "Go right ahead, Crys. I was planning on staying in bed late myself."

Crysta suddenly smirked. "In whose bed?"

"Mine, of course." she responded as if nothing was.

Jonny looked at her, puzzled at her tone of voice. She merely winked a seductive grin at him. He immediately understood her intent and struggled hard to fight back the warm rush that swept over him. A look like that from her usually meant she had special plans in mind.

"What about you, Blondie?" Crysta continued, not having noticed the silent exchange. "In whose bed?"

"Crysta..." came Todd's warning voice before Jonny could answer.

She feigned innocence. "What? Can you really blame me for asking?"

"No, but it's too late at night to start that conversation up again. You can grill them in the morning for all the details."

Todd then walked through the door Jonny indicated to him, crashed on the bed, and immediately fell asleep. The remaining trio stared, dumbfounded, for a moment as Todd snored loudly.

"Thank God for soundproofing." Jonny voiced. He rubbed the back of his own neck in slightly stunned awe. "Wish I could fall asleep like that."

"Glad you don't." Jessie retorted with a knowing grin. She then indicated the room across the hall for Crysta. The blond bid her friends goodnight and disappeared into the room, closing the door behind her. Alone in the hallway, the lovers began to slowly walk back towards their rooms.

Out of the corner of her eye Jessie watched Jonny in the dim night. She could see he, too, was watching her furtively. She smiled inwardly. Jessie knew why. Her so called nightshirt she was wearing was actually Jonny's pyjama top. He was going shirtless this night. Secretly she admired his physique. Jessie often wondered how she could have missed the changes. He wasn't overly built in musculature, but he was toned, well chiseled. He had grown taller than her by half a head. Physically, she had missed his change from boy to man. Emotionally, she was part responsible for the change.

Jonny slowed his gait to walk a little behind her and just stared at her as they went. He couldn't stop the lopsided grin that crossed his face. Earlier she had come into his room before he could completely change. She had playfully snatched away his pyjama top, winked, and then walked away. He didn't mind. She looked good in it. It came to just above mid-thigh on her, showing off a good deal of her shapely legs. Finally, reaching the door to her room, he couldn't contain himself anymore. He leaned his shoulder to the wall and sighed heavily, smiling lovingly and in slight awe at her. She turned to him at this.

"What is it?" she asked softly.

"I'm just wondering what I ever did to deserve you."

Jessie smiled gently, touching his face. "I often wonder that about you." and she drew him into a tender embrace.

"Mmm... Had I a million lifetimes..." he said into the kiss, his voice sad.

"I know." She grinned an impish grin at him. "How about we make the best of this one."

He grinned back. "What do you have in mind?"

"A game. Something I picked up from that store."

"Oo, do tell."

"Oh, I'll do more than tell. Samples are in order here." and she tugged him into her room where she urged him to sit on the bed. "Now, no peeking." she warned playfully as she moved off to her night table.

"But... if you're going to give samples..."

"Yes, but these are samples that are more felt than seen."

Jonny felt her crawl on the bed to right behind him and then something dark and velvet fell over his eyes. A blindfold. He grinned. He had a pretty good idea where this was going. Jessie's lips skimmed leisurely down the back of his neck as her hands ever so slowly slid over his shoulders and down his arms. He shivered pleasantly. He then felt her get up and take his hands to guide him to the head of the bed. From there he could guess what she wanted him to do. He settled himself comfortably in the center of her bed and she straddled his waist. Jonny had heard the slight rustling of fabric and somehow knew she had removed what little clothing she wore at the time. He tried to reach up and caress her, but she pinned his wrists down to the pillows.

"Not part of the game, Jonny." she teased against his lips.

He chuckled softly. "Then sign me up, Jess. I want to play."

He heard the almost silent clinking of metal against metal as he felt her enclose each wrist in a confining bracelet, raising his arms to the bed's headboard. Then her hand teasingly slid down the length of his bare arms to his chest where they began drawing strange patterns with feather light touches. He tried bringing his arms back down to her when she lightly kissed his lips, but found he couldn't no matter how hard he tried.

Handcuffs!

She had gotten a pair of handcuffs and had secured him with them. He grinned again. This he liked somehow. Her fingers continued their intricate work of caressing every inch of his flesh. Soon her lips left his to travel down and join her hands at their work, nipping, licking and kissing his skin until it felt as if he could feel every molecule of air around him. Her gentle hands gripped the waist band of his pyjama pants and slowly tugged them down the length of his legs, her intention being to drive him completely wild. It worked to her advantage. He groaned and squirmed a little more urgently beneath her when he faintly heard the distinctive crinkle of a small foil packet.

"... Jess..." he breathed breathlessly.

"Shh, Lover. Tonight you're all mine."

"... Oh God...!" he choked desperately.

She gently, but firmly, raked her nails down the length of him and down his legs, making it a point to purposefully ignore that part of him that was most desperate for attention. Reaching his ankles he felt silk wrap around each, pinning his legs straight and slightly apart. Then her hands retraced their paths up his legs, showing particular attention to the inside of his thighs. By now he was writhing and squirming in desperation.

"... Please...!" he cried out, out of breath.

Jessie chuckled softly. "What do you want, Jonny?" she asked in a teasing fashion.

"... You...!" he begged.

"Getting anxious, aren't you? Good." and she lightly kissed his lips. "I like it when you beg. When I'm done you won't be able to walk straight ever again. That is, if you'll be able to walk at all."

He whimpered in desperation. This was so unlike the Jessie he usually knew. She was dominating now, clearly enjoying herself from her small chuckles at his reactions. Then her hands disappeared for a moment, returning to apply something smooth and slick to the skin of his legs and chest. Oil? Scented oil. That heated up with friction. Her lips returned to his mouth and he could taste a sweet, slightly powdery substance on them. He filed a mental note somewhere in his rapidly overheating brain to ask her what other treasures she had acquired. The mental note vanished when her hands and mouth suddenly came in contact with his hard member, driving him ever closer to the edge. He tugged at the handcuffs hard, but couldn't break free.

"... Jessie... Please...!"

"What do you need, Jonny?" she teased with a low chuckle as she slowly slipped the condom on him.

"... You...!"

She positioned herself over his hips. "What do you want?"

"... Oh God... You...!"

She took him inside her with one swift downward thrust. He cried out, not in pain, but more in surprise. She was so violent, so feral tonight. This was so new, yet so strangely enjoyable at the same time. The more he fought with his restraints the more she seemed to become excited. Her hips pistoned against him in a rhythm older than time, painful and arousing at the same time. She made the most enjoyable of sounds as she moved faster. His whole body stiffened as he tried to reach her, unable because of his restraints. Jessie's fingers suddenly curled into his shoulders, silken muscles tightening around his shaft as she cried out in ecstasy. His release came almost instantly, harder than he had ever remembered. Then it was over, leaving them both to pant desperately for air. He suddenly began to laugh.

"Where did all that come from?"

She giggled. "Why? You liked?"

"Yeah!"

She laughed. "I got to talking to one of the sales clerks at Victoria's Secret and she suggested we try and have some fun. Was this fun?"

Jonny laughed. "Oh yeah, very! Only, next time, you're wearing the handcuffs."

"Okay." and she chuckled low as she lay on his chest, brushing her lips to his.

"You know you can untie me now."

"Now why would I do a thing like that?" she teased.

"Because I want to hold you." he breathed seductively.

"Mmmm, good reason."

She sat up, reaching back and releasing his ankles from their silk bonds. Then she retrieved the key and unlocked his wrists from the handcuffs. His arms now free he wrapped them tightly around her naked form and crushed her to his chest. She carefully lifted the velvet blindfold enough to see his blue eyes twinkle lovingly at her in the darkness of the room. Jonny ran his hands down her sides to the round mounds of her buttocks, squeezing them to keep her hips tight to his own.

"I love you, Jessie." he breathed with all his heart.

"Love you, too, Jonny."

* * *

"Mmm, I missed you."

"Missed you too. You know Julia would probably have our heads if she ever found out we were here like this." Kyle Merrick voiced to the warm woman snuggled to his chest.

Francesca Hamilton grunted in dismissal, holding him closer, her cheek to his heart. "At this moment in time I don't care what she thinks. Just so long as you're holding me."

They were lying side-by-side on the small cot in Merrick's room, enjoying another moment of peace. He had returned only a few hours ago and, after assuring Julia and Surd that everything would go as he had planned, Merrick had retired to his room. Francesca had joined him there shortly after and they had cuddled tenderly.

"All this went kind of fast." he sighed.

"What did?"

"Us. We barely talked at all, just jumped right in... literally."

She turned her face upwards to look at him. "You want to talk?"

"I'd like to. I'd like to know more about the woman I so willingly gave myself to. I know so little except that you have a grudge against the Quests."

"Well, no, not the Quests. Just Bannon."

He smirked. "Which one?"

"Jessie." She spat the name like some disease.

He turned on his side to face her, a hand on her hip. "Tell me?"

"Now, remember, all of this was before I knew you existed." She paused, then sighed. "Started a few years back. My Dad and I were hired to distract the Quests so we could borrow some of their equipment. Specifically a QT designed carbon dater. My job was to find out where that equipment was by getting close to Jonny."

"Something rather easy for you." he grinned softly.

"Oh, it was. It was so easy. What I hadn't counted on was him."

"What do you mean?"

"He was so sweet, so nice to me. He got to me, but the problem was Bannon. I think she suspected I was up to something. She kept digging and digging in the systems to find something about my Dad and I."

"And did she? Find anything that is."

"No. And I think that was our mistake. We had no records of us ever existing anywhere. I knew I had Jonny wrapped around my little finger, but as time went by he started to become distant. He wasn't as forthcoming as he used to. Instead he started commenting on how he and Bannon used to do certain things together that he and I weren't doing. My Father and I then decided it was time to hit the Quest Compound. We duped Jonny all night, then drove him back, staying inside the compound grounds. We raided the Lighthouse Lab. We had to find the equipment."

"Did you?"

"No. Jonny and Jessie stopped us before we could. She and I squared off, but I had to go. It was getting too dangerous for the cops to show up."

"So you did the cliché thing and vowed vengeance, right?"

"Right. Almost got her too. Several times. Paying off a cab driver to pass a little too close to her. A splash of water at the top of some marble stairs. A little shove against an unsteady balcony railing. A runaway bus. I managed to put her in the hospital in Cairo. Pay off the right people and they'll do anything you ask. I just had to get rid of her, then I could have him."

He held her a little closer. "Didn't work, did it?"

She shook her head slightly. "I didn't know how close they were to each other. He knew I was responsible for it all and came after my Father and I. He was so cold in his attack. He attacked, without remorse, without emotion. He thought Bannon had died. He wanted revenge. Oh, the hatred in his eyes was so beautiful! But all consuming. If it hadn't been for their Fathers he would've killed me. Bannon hadn't died. It was the only thing that stopped him. My Father was jailed and I was extradited back to the States where a went to juvi for a while. Then I was given a choice of where I wanted to live and study."

"You chose Rockport."

"I wanted to see if I still had a chance. Either to have Jonny or punish Bannon. I owe her for all she's done to me. I have nothing because of her."

He quickly cupped her face to force her to look him straight in the eyes. "No, you do have something." he assured gently, but firmly. "You have you, your whole life ahead of you, and you have me."

"You mean that, about you and me?"

"Yes. I thought I wanted Jessie, but that was lust. What I have for you is so much more... and that's what scares me."

"So hard, so fast."

"Exactly. But I can promise you one thing."

"What's that?"

Merrick pulled her close against himself. "When all this is over, when Quest and Bannon are dead, we're going to Cairo."

She looked clearly confused. "For what?"

He grinned. "Well, if we're going to be on the lam together, might as well meet the family, right?"

Her face began to brighten. "You mean..."

"Bust him out."

She suppressed a squeal of delight, her hands to her mouth. "You, Kyle, are a god."

"I try." he quipped.

Francesca wrapped her arms tight around his neck, pulling him into a deep and passionate embrace as only she could deliver. At that moment, if she had asked, he would have done and gotten anything she might have asked for, no matter what the cost. Just as he felt the rest of his body beginning to respond to her touch she pulled back slightly, enough for their lips to still brush teasingly.

"I love you." he breathed.

She smiled. "Love you too."

* * *

Captain Terry Weaver of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stepped out of the dark blue Sedan, a dour look on his face as he looked at the near secluded research buildings at Simoom Sound. Security had been tripled in the last few days to ensure the safety of the researchers inside, and the visitors now arriving. The order for the increased security had come from Race Bannon, an American. Weaver didn't care much for Americans, with their I know best and almost holier than thou attitudes. True, not all of them were like that, but there weren't enough normal Americans to make Weaver change his views. And it didn't matter that this Doctor Benton Quest was the best scientist in the world or that he was presently working on the cures for a biological and technological virus. He was an American. More than enough of a reason for Weaver to dislike him, no matter the work he was doing.

Now surrounded by more than two dozen security personnel and officers, two more figures stepped out of the same dark blue Sedan; Mister Clarke, the Minister of British Columbia, and the Right Honorable Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada. Both had been summoned to the research lab, at their leisure, for an update on the entire quest for a cure to both of British Columbia's problems. The summon hadn't sounded very optimistic. They were met by a young looking Lieutenant of the Canadian National Defense, Air Force division by his slate blue uniform. Weaver fought off a smirk as he remembered nick names used to describe the different divisions.

Pigeons, he chuckled inwardly as he looked over the Lieutenant who saluted sharply, almost hopping to attention.

"Welcome to Simoom Sound, gentlemen. The research team is waiting for you in the main lab. If you would follow me, please..." and with a smart turn he led the way into the large, hanger-like building.

The corridors were stark and quiet as the small group progressed down them to the building's main lab. The only sounds perceivable were the clip of hard shoe soles on tiled floors and the gentle hiss of warmed air flowing through the ventilation shafts.

"Hard to believe this place was built in only a few days." Chrétien commented to Clarke as they walked.

The Lieutenant led those who followed to a heavy door set at the end of the corridor. He preceded them in, then stood next to the door in a guarding fashion. Gathered around a central table, completely ignoring desks lined with untouched chemicals, were the research team, Marie Métier, Nina LaChance, Doctor Quest, Race Bannon, and a young native of India all deeply engrossed in something running on a laptop computer. They all looked up at the sound of the door closing behind the new comers.

Doctor Quest straightened and shook each of their hands in greeting, not once smiling. Bad sign, thought Weaver.

"Gentlemen, thank you for coming, though I wish it was for better news than we're about to give." Benton stated gravely.

"Please, Doctor Quest, any news is good news right now." Clarke admonished with more confidence than he felt. "Just tell me it's in the right direction."

Marie nodded. "It is, it's just this one solution is not very appealing."

"We are hesitant to implement it." Hadji added.

"Why is that?" asked a clearly confused Chrétien. If this was a cure, why were they so afraid?

"Because it poses as much a safety and security threat as everything going on now." Race answered flatly.

"How much of a threat?" Weaver asked with some trepidation.

Benton sighed heavily. "I guess the best way to explain this is to tell you what we're planning to do. Hadji?"

The young man at the laptop stood with a nod. "Yes, Father."

Race frowned slightly in surprise. "When did he start doing that?" he questioned Doctor Quest.

Benton chuckled. "Shortly after Jonny disappeared when you were in South America with Estella and Jessie."

"Oh."

During this Hadji had called up a few files on his laptop and had turned it around to show the two Canadian Ministers. "This is what has attacked all of British Columbia's networked computers, a virus containing every known and unknown virus now floating in the Net. It was concocted by several hackers working together. After much analyzing we have determined that not even the best antiviral programs running together could eradicate all the components."

"But you found a way around that?" Clarke asked hopefully.

Hadji hesitated. "Yes, but I'm afraid it is a solution you will not enjoy. For all of this there is really only one way to solve the problem."

"Which is?" Chrétien probed.

"Forcing the whole British Colombian computer network into a system crash and reboot."

"Say what?" Weaver demanded incredulously.

"We have to crash the network in British Columbia, cut off the power to the province, and then restart everything."

Chrétien sunk his face into his hands as Weaver began to pace in fear of the impending situation and Clarke's face drained of all color. "Oh mon Dieu..." was all the Canadian Prime Minister could mutter softly.

* * *

"Tag! You're it, Blondie!" Todd cried out as a snowball exploded at the back of Jonny's head.

Young Quest staggered in surprise. "Gah! Todd!?"

They had been standing out in front of Rockport High, waiting for their respective girlfriends to finish with their last exams for the midterm. It was Thursday and Todd and Crysta had spent the week at the Quest Compound either studying for their exams or helping both Jessie and Jonny repair the Questworld systems. Having finished with their exams the two young men had gone out into the school yard near the parking lot to wait for the ladies

"Arm up or get out of the snow bank! Oops! Forget it, the ladies are here."

From the school's main entrance came Jessie and Crysta, both looking slightly drained, but satisfied with the work they had done on their respective exams. Jessie smirked at Jonny who was still trying to get the snow out of the collar of his coat.

"Got you good, didn't he?" she quipped.

"Yeah, and he cooled off a few thought crimes while he was at it." he smirked in return.

She grinned slyly. "Did he now? Well, you'll have to tell me about those thought on the flight up."

His smile broadened. "Will do, Pretty Lady."

"You guys still set on flying out today?" Crysta asked.

Jonny nodded. "Yup. Bags are all packed and in the trunk of the Viper. We leave now and we'll reach BC just before nightfall. Can't wait to see Marie again."

"I can't wait to just meet this love interest of Dad's." Jessie added thoughtfully.

"Don't worry, Jess. I'm sure he behaved while he was up there." he grinned.

She smirked. "Unlike us."

"But we'll have to." he returned with an almost sad sigh.

"For a while. So, what are you two planning to do over the Christmas holidays?"

Crysta shrugged. "Mom finally finagled some free time for herself this year. We're doing a family get together, but she won't tell us what to expect."

"Oo, sounds very mysterious. What about you, Todd?"

"Road trip to North Carolina. Grandma invited the whole family to her place. Gab and food fest! Which reminds me, I still have loads of packing to do. Have fun in BC I hear the skiing is wicked up there." and he took off at a trot over the thick snow banks to the street.

"And I guess that's my cue to get home and clean things up a little before Mom get's home. See you guys in January." and she too left.

Jessie and Jonny climbed into the sleek black Viper, Jessie behind the wheel, and drove off for the airport. Conversation was casual, questions about the exams of plans made by other friends for the holidays. Jonny couldn't help but start chuckling. She looked at him in confusion.

"What's that for?"

It took him a moment before sobering enough to talk. "It's just... all our friends are planning family outings or quiet time at home and what do we do? Go off and save the world. And no one ever hears about it."

She smirked. "Normal routine."

"Ever wonder what it'd be like if we weren't the people we are?"

Jessie frowned. "Come again?"

"You know. What if we didn't have the lives we have today."

"Then you and I would have never met."

He sighed. "It's hard to do, but that aside, how would we be like?"

She thought a moment in silence, then grinned. "I think you'd be bored out of your mind without the adventures. I can just imagine what a Holy Terror you would've been trying to find some form of excitement to occupy yourself. You love adventures. You almost live for them."

"I do live for them, and you too." he grinned lopsidedly.

She chuckled. "I knew you'd say that."

"So I'm that predictable to you now." he laughed. "And you? How would you be?" he continued.

"Like Mom. An archeologist somewhere deep in a jungle in South America, up to my elbows in mosquito bites and old Maya or Molche ruins. Something I find harder and harder to see with each passing day." she grinned with a sigh. "Why all these questions?"

"Just thoughts." he shrugged. "Trying to sort things out."

"What things?"

"Everything." and he drifted into silence, looking out the passenger side window.

She respected this sudden silence all the way to the airport. They reached the airport within the hour, all in relative silence. This worried Jessie, slightly, knowing Jonny was thinking harder than usual. What was it that had him so pensive? The fight? The fact that they had to tell their Fathers' how far their relationship had progressed? Something else? Whatever it was he would tell her when he felt like it. After the fight they had in the Lighthouse Lab she wasn't prepared to push him for anything he wasn't yet ready to give.

Marcus met them at the hanger when she drove the Viper across the tarmac to him. "Mister Quest, Miss Bannon, hallo!" the plane mechanic greeted jovially.

"Yo, Marcus! How's everything?" Jonny spoke for the first time since leaving the school.

"Everything's on the up and up. Your plane's ready and fueled, all set to go."

"Good. Just the time to load up and we're gone."

"I'll go log your flight plan then, sir." and he turned to leave.

"Hey, Marcus. You're a man short." Jessie remarked as she looked towards the men fueling the plane.

"Hun? Oh! That. Yeah, Mike came down with something nasty sometime before Mister Hadji flew off and I managed to get a temp. This guy showed up out of nowhere and he did a great job on the first plane. Then, a few days ago, he just ups and vanishes. I checked out the last plane to make sure nothing was amiss from his sudden Houdini act. Everything showed up fine. No damage, no intentional screw ups in the machinery, nothing. But I had the rest of my team give the plane a once over just in case."

"They find anything?"

"Nope. The machinery's all fine. If you want we can do a more thorough check, but that'll mean you'll be a few days late going."

"No, that's okay, Marcus. We'll take our chances. We're kind of in a hurry." Jessie informed with a thin grin.

Marcus tipped his cap to her with an understanding grin. "Another mission, Miss Bannon?"

"You could say that." she replied cryptically as she walked over to the plane.

She slipped into the pilot's seat and checked over the systems in a pre-flight check. It was an unnecessary action, knowing full well that Marcus and his team kept the planes in tip top condition, but it was an action drilled into her from her Father. Besides, it was a great way to waste time until Jonny returned from logging their flight plan with the control tower.

Flaps?... Check.

Altimeter?... Check.

Speedometer?... Check.

Cabin pressuriser?... Check.

Landing gear?... Check.

Fuel?... Check.

Radio?... "This is Quest Cessna Tango Alpha Zulu two seven niner. Doing a radio check. Please confirm, over."

"Tango Alpha Zulu two seven niner, confirming radio signal on A band, channel six. Receiving you five by five."

"Thank you, Control." Radio, check. Am I missing anything here? she questioned herself as she looked at the flight board. Jessie looked behind the seats to the supplies stacked there. Emergency supplies and first aid kit... check and check.

"You drove to here and now you're going to fly to BC?" Jonny queried as he appeared in the pilot's side door.

Jessie grinned at him. "If I remember right the last time you flew a plane we flipped over during landing."

He pouted. "Wasn't my fault. I was used to landing on tarmac, not a mesa plateau."

"Tarmac in a simulator."

"Details, details." he smirked, walking around the plane to the co-pilot's seat. "So, what heavy topic do we start with for the trip?" he asked as he strapped himself in.

"How about how we're going to tell out Dads about just how far we've gone?"

"Sounds good." he agreed.

With practiced moves Jessie switched on the small plane's engine, the twin propeller beginning to spin without protest. At a thumb's up from Marcus and others from their ground crew she slowly taxied to the end of the runway.

"This is Tango Alpha Zulu two seven niner requesting authorization for take-off on runway alpha-alpha-four, West."

"Tango Alpha Zulu two seven niner, clear to take-off. Doppler is clear. Happy flying."

With that Jessie pushed the throttle to full and released the brakes. Slowly at first, the small plane headed down the runway, gradually picking up speed. She began to ease back on the stick and the plane easily lifted off the ground. A textbook perfect take-off. After a few short minutes of stabilizing flight time Jessie leaned back in her seat.

"So..." she sighed.

"So..." he returned.

"How did your Dad find out about us?"

"Remember when he was looking for the suitcase?"

"Yeah."

"He tried to give me the be careful of the bird and the bees talk. I wasn't comfortable lying to him about it while I was face-to-face with him so I told him that talk was too little too late."

"Did he pull a Casper?"

"A what?"

"A Casper. A Crysta saying for turning as white as a sheet."

"Oh."

"Did he?"

"Yeah. I think he still thinks of us as being six years old."

"Poor Doctor Quest."

"That's nothing. Wait until Race finds out."

"He's gonna go ballistic."

"Ballistic if we're lucky, Jess. Remember, you're his one and only little Ponchita."

She winced. "Geez, I'm nineteen. Doesn't he realize that?"

He smirked. "He realizes it. He just doesn't want to admit it."

"Sort of like how you don't want to admit that I can take care of myself in sticky situations?" she poked verbally.

He frowned a smirk. "Nice seaway."

She shrugged a grin. "I try."

He chuckled softly with a slight shake of his head. "It's a guy thing to try to protect his girlfriend."

"Bad explanation. I know you better than that to know that's not your reason, Jonny Quest."

Jonny sighed. "It's not the easiest thing for me to admit." He sudden squared his shoulders. "After everything that's happened in the last few years I'm terrified to death that one day I'll wake up and you'll be gone."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"No, not that kind of gone. Gone as in... well... dead."

She paused in shock. "Oh."

"That's why I take risks when you're around, Jess. It's not to impress you because I love you. It's to keep you alive because I love you."

"But what if doing a crazy stunt gets you killed?"

He looked at his hands, then out the side window. "A risk I'm willing to take."

"But not one I'm willing to let you take. I'm controlling of you, I realize that, but do you know why I do that?" He looked at her. "Just like you can't stand the thought of losing me I can't stand the thought of living another second without you." She touched her own stomach, her eyes lowering away from the plane's controls. "Especially now."

He looked at her, confused. "Why's that?"

Jessie paused. "Totally honest?"

"Yes."

"You remember me telling you I'm on birth control pills?"

"Yeah."

"For the last three days I... forgot to take them... and I'm late."

Jonny paled. "You don't mean..."

"Might be. Not sure yet."

He suddenly began to laugh, a touch of hysteria in the sound. "Oh right, you tell me you could be pregnant when I can't risk holding you or we crash the plane."

She laughed. "Can't think of a better way to go."

He smiled at her for the longest moment. "If you are you know we're so dead."

"I know. Canon fodder comes to mind."

"You also know that I'll double my white knight routine if you are pregnant."

"I'll allow that, considering what's at stake." she grinned.

He had another long pause where he just stared at her, smiling an almost goofy grin. The thought of her possibly carrying his child was just too wonderfully incredible. He touched her cheek with the back of his fingers, letting them glide down the length of her neck. She sighed blissfully.

"I love you." Jonny breathed loud enough for her to hear.

She turned her head to him to give him a beautiful smile. "I love you, too."

* * *

Hadji looked at all the lights, screens and gauges around him. This was the last power station of the region left to be shut down. Everything, every system, was drawing power from these eight massive generators. And Hadji's hand was on the off switch. He really didn't like this forced situation.

It was drastic.

It was foolhardy.

It was... the last option left open.

He sighed heavily as his mind automatically switched to all the hospitals and emergency services they would finally be shutting down. He brought the cell phone to his ear.

"I am ready, Doctor Quest." he spoke with much heaviness.

"Everything is set here as well, Hadji. Do it."

"By the Grace of Allah..." he breathed and pulled down the off switch.

With a whine of protest the massive generators went silent. All the dials and power gauges dropped to zero. The province of British Columbia was now officially without any electrical power.

Hospitals.

Schools.

Fire Departments.

Police.

Prisons.

Airports…

Something clicked violently in Hadji's mind. With everything he had to do he had completely forgotten that Jessie and Jonny were flying up to join them this afternoon. They were probably in the air right now coming up on the badlands, the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Once they crossed those peaks in the next few minutes there wouldn't be any radio contact to help them navigate. They would be flying blind. Hadji quickly brought the phone to his ear.

"Doctor Quest! I just realized a major omission in this plan."

"What is it, Son?"

"Jessie and Jonny. They are in the air on their way here as we speak."

"Oh, no!"

* * *

Jessie Bannon smirked from the sight of Jonny's blue eyes watching her. She could see them glowing in the bright afternoon light, just out of the corner of her eye.

"Don't get too comfortable with the idea just yet." she warned sweetly. "We don't know if I am. Nor have we explained our relationship and the depth of it to our Fathers."

"I know, but I guess what I'm feeling is a guy thing."

She gave a derisive snort. "If I had a nickel for each time a guy said that I could buy QT away from your Dad."

"I think he left a third to you in his will anyway." he quipped. "But it's true, Jess. Any girl in your position would probably be worried about her health, new clothes, and trying to cope with the beach ball inflating in the front of her stomach."

"Well I am now that you mentioned it, thank you very much."

Jonny grinned. "And any guy in my position would be thinking about the baby's first steps, first smile, how he must be blessed that the girl he loves is having his baby, and how beautiful Mother and child will be."

She chuckled. "You guys act all macho, but as soon as you add a baby into the equation you turn into teddy bears."

"Can you blame us?"

"No, guess not. Mind you I know one guy who won't be so easily turned into a teddy bear. Enraged tiger is how I'd describe him."

"Race."

"Given time I'm sure he'll warm up to the idea of being a Granddaddy, but until then… well… you know of a bomb shelter you can hide out in until Atomic Bomb Bannon cools down?" she quipped.

"Not funny, Jess. Really, how're we going to break the news to him without having him break our necks? Dad, there's no problem. Race, that's another story all together."

She sighed. "I plan on going in and winging it." she grinned.

"You're doing this on purpose to terrify me, right?" he griped.

"Oh, well, if you want to be serious about it… First off I'm not leaving you alone with Dad for a nano. He can kill you five times in that time. I guess… well… when we explain it all to our Dads we'll just have to say we got carried away a few times and that, well, accidents happen. It's the truth."

He mulled the explanation over in his mind. "Sounds about right. Might just be enough to convince Race not to kill me."

"He kills you and I charge him with double homicide for you and my suicide."

"Jess!"

"Hey, no way am I living out my life without my favorite bleach head."

"Not a good reason to--"

"Last resort. I don't plan on crossing that bridge unless something really happens."

He chuckled grimly. "You know, you're enough to give any guy a heart attack."

"I try." she grinned impishly. "So, you're really comfortable with the idea of maybe becoming a Daddy?"

"Yeah, I am. Always knew I wanted kids of my own someday." He suddenly laughed. "Just didn't think it would be so soon. What about you? You ready to be a Mommy?"

"It's actually a terrifying thought. A little life I brought into this world and so dependant on me. So small, so fragile. I don't know if I can do this."

"You wouldn't be doing it alone, but it…" and he let the rest of the suggestion hang unsaid.

"That's not an option, Jonny, and you know it." She sighed. "How can a topic that started out so happy end up so heavy?"

"One of life's mysteries." he grinned.

"Change topic before we end up in a blue funk?"

"Sure. What's our ETA?"

Jessie looked at the flight board. "About another two hours. We're just starting over the Rockies now."

"Wonder what progress Hadji's helped them make during the week."

"Probably has it all fixed and we don't really need to fly down."

"That's what I'm wondering. I mean, shouldn't we have gotten radio contact from them already?"

"True." She did a quick check of the plane's radio. "Nothing."

"What do you mean, nothing?"

"Exactly that. There's nothing coming out of BC on any of the radio frequencies. Not even static. It's like everything went dead."

Apprehension crossed Jonny's face. "Oh, don't use the D word." A sudden impulse forced him to look ahead. "Jess, look out!"

She looked up in time to see a low flying Jumbo 747 heading right for them. Since she had been flipping through radio channels she hadn't heard them call to them in warning. With lightning fast reflexes she banked hard to port, going into a dive to evade the huge jet liner. It barely missed the small Cessna, the force of the moving air around the massive liner forcing them into an even steeper dive. Jessie struggled to right the plane, but the controls suddenly seemed to lock in place. Jonny grabbed hold of the stick to try to help her, to no avail. The snow, pine and redwood covered mountain face continued to speed towards them.

* * *

First reports coming in, Doc." Race stated, listening to one of a series of short wave radios hooked up to a portable generator. "Northern BC and Northern Vancouver Island's systems are clean. The reboot worked with them."

"Don't restore power until the whole province reports in. We don't want anything to go wrong." He turned to Hadji working at another short wave radio. "Anything?"

"Nothing yet, Father. I am boosting the signal gain once again."

Doctor Quest frowned in growing worry. "We should have heard something on one of the usual channels by now."

"We are fighting to send and receive a radio signal through high mountains, Father. We may not be crossing the threshold."

"I hope you're right, Hadji."

"That's it." Race announced. "All areas reported in. All systems purged of the bug."

"Give the signal."

Race flipped a switch, changing radio frequencies. "Home Base to Power Plugs, do you copy?"

"Power Plug one, copy."

"Power Plug two, copy."

"Power Plug three, five by five."

"Power Plug four, loud and clear."

"Home Base to Power Plugs, power up!"

There was a sound of static, then, "Power Plug one, powered up."

"Power Plug two, power on."

"Power Plug three, up and running."

"Power Plug four, systems are go."

"Contact the airport, Race. Ask them about the kids."

While Race did as told Doctor Quest began to pace the room anxiously. This silence from them was unnerving.

"Bad new, Doc." came the ex-Covert Operations Officer's heavy voice. "As soon as the power came back on they saw a 747 headin' staright for a QT registered Cessna. They didn't hit, but they lost the Cessna when it dropped below five hundred feet."

"They crashed?"

"Looks like it."

"We have to mount a search and rescue to find them."

"Can't spare the manpower right now, Doc. We have to find Surd. Won't take him long to figure out what we're doin' here so I'm sorry to say that's a little more urgent. If the computers cant find a cure for the bug he set loose on these people then we need his files. You know that as well as I do."

Benton paused, biting the inside of his cheek. This was his Son out there, dead or dying. And Jessie… He closed his eyes tight, then steeled himself in resolve. The good of the many outweighed the good of the few. The kids were survivors, trained by the best for situations like this. Benton hated the thought, but Race was right. Jessie and Jonny would have to come second in this situation.

* * *

Doctor Marie Métier stared at the computer screen in slight disgust. She wasn't thrilled about computers. In fact, she hated them. Machines that mankind had become far too dependant on. There wasn't free thought anymore. The machine thought for them. She grimaced at the cold screen showing her an image of a biological virus's chemical make-up and a scrolling of quick images next to it. It was running through countless simulations in a fraction of a second, trying to find the right combination of chemicals to negate the virus. So far, in the two hours since power had been restored and the computers purged of their own virus, it had come up with nothing for her to use.

Machine inférnale, she cursed in French.

As if to prove her wrong the computer displayed a chemical representation of a substance with the words MATCH FOUND blinking in red below it.

Here it was.

The cure.

She printed the chemical formula and made a mad dash for the laboratory all the while yelling like a mad woman, "I have it! I have it!"

* * *

Jonny woke quickly to agonizing pain radiating through his every limb and all over his body. He struggled hard to swallow his own pained cries as he opened his eyes. He was lying on his back on a slab of ice covered rock, tree branches were broken far above him from the crash, the plane's wreckage lying off to his left. What helped him forget his pain and what began to worry him was the fact that he couldn't see Jessie anywhere in his field of view. He struggled to sit up, but was in too much pain to even do so.

"Jessie?" he called in a scratchy voice from breathing in smoke.

She appeared from around the edge of the plane. Cuts, bruises and soot mixed with blood covered her face and hands. Seeing him awake she carefully made her way over the rocks' slippery surfaces to his side. Tears were just beginning to brim in her eyes.

"I was starting to believe that you'd never wake up." she near sobbed.

Jonny managed to raise a heavy arm and gently touched her cheek to offer some comfort. "I'll be okay, Ace. I'm awake now, and feeling every limb, pained as them may be. All things considered, a good sign."

She forced a smile. "You're right."

"How're you doing?"

"Small cuts and lot of bruises only."

"See? You can't be part Hispanic. With your luck and red hair there has to be Irish blood in you." he quipped.

Jessie huffed a small burst of laughter. "Must be." she agreed, a slight twinge of sadness in her voice.

"Jess?" She met his clear blue eyes. "What's wrong?"

She paused. "I may not be that lucky."

"What happened?"

She had another long, hesitant pause. "After the crash, when I woke up, the stick was pressed in hard on my stomach."

His eyes went wide. "The…?"

"I don't know." She swallowed hard and straightened. "But we can't think about that now."

Silently he marveled at her strength in this situation. "Right. Survival first. Radio?"

"Tried it. Got smashed pretty good in the crash."

"Then we have to hoof it."

"You can't walk." she protested.

"I'll crawl if I have to. Jess, we can't stay here. The plane has QT computers on board. It should have righted itself, even with the turbulence."

"Sabotage?"

"No doubt. Now that I think about it, K.C. Irrem was the new name on the roster. Saw it at the tower. Spell it backwards."

"What?"

"Merrick. It spells Merrick."

"Oh, my God!"

"Gotta put as much distance between us and the crash, even if our Dads are looking for us too."

"Let me get the supplies together then." and she made a quick dash for the plane.

He could hear her rummaging through wreckage and debris, gathering various items and supplies together. With a supreme effort, fighting every shred of pain pulsating in his back, limbs and ribs, he sat up to get a better look at his surroundings. The plane was a total loss, too damaged for salvage. They seemed to be in some sort of valley running East to West between two tall mountain peaks. From the looks of the long trail of damaged trees they had slid quite a distance down the side of the mountain. At the base of the valley ran a river heading West. He nodded to himself. He and Jessie would make their way down to that river and follow it to the coast. If their luck held they would find a settlement along the way. He then thought to look himself over to assess his injuries. Jonny's back hurt atrociously to the point where bright spots would play in front of his eyes. His arms and shoulders gave only slight pain, that was fine.

Head… dizzy. Ribs, He winced as his felt his sides. …Broken. Legs… Damn, broken ankle. Let's see, I need a splint and a crutch. Jonny looked up in time to see Jessie return with supplies, a long and thick stick, and pieces from the plane's wreckage. "What're those for?" he questioned about the latter.

"Splints. Where do you need them?"

"Left ankle only."

She nodded silently and proceeded to fashion one of the pieces into an L shape. Satisfied she carefully lifted her boyfriend's injury and fitted it into the right-angle ankle splint. He gritted his teeth against the pain of his fracture being set.

"Almost done." she soothed, hearing his groan intensify as she tied the splint.

Finally, "No, Jess, you're done!" he cried in agony.

Jessie immediately backed off. "Sorry."

Jonny breathed hard, staring at the sky as he waited for the pain to subside. During this she turned her attention to the stick and the remaining debris to fashion a crutch for him to use. As she finished she heard him suddenly begin to chuckle.

"What's so funny?" she asked.

"Oh, I was just thinking how my luck was still holding out, all things considered."

She gave him a puzzled look. "How so?"

"You didn't have any iodine."

A shocked moment passed before she suddenly broke out into laughter. He joined her, despite the pain in his ribs. Jessie touched his face tenderly, a bright and loving smile on her lips.

"Always know exactly what to say to make me laugh, no matter the situation."

"Have to make my angel smile somehow." he replied with his usual lopsided grin.

"Monster." she accused sweetly, lightly kissing his lips.

"You love me for it." he quipped.

"Despite it, you mean." she corrected with a smirk, helping him to stand.

He took one of the supply packs and slung it over his shoulder when he had steadied himself on one foot and a crutch. "For it, despite it…" he voiced.

"Make up, make out…" she quipped.

He chuckled. "All the same to me."

She giggled, draping his right arm over her shoulders to give him more support. "C'mon, Romeo. We better get moving."

* * *

"You know, Julia is gonna kill us for this when we get back." Francesca whispered, her breath crystallizing in the frigid mountain air.

"Who says we're going back after this?" Kyle replied as he scanned the surrounding forest with binoculars. "Following orders was never my thing."

"We're going AWOL?"

He smirked, lowering the binoculars to look at her. "We have to go to Cairo, remember?"

A moment of shock crossed her features. "I… I didn't think you actually meant what you'd said."

Kyle gripped her chin. "Hey, I always mean everything I say. Especially if it's to a lovely lady with violet eyes."

"Silver tongued serpent."

He smirked. "Flattery will get you everywhere, 'Cesca."

"I've already been everywhere." she quipped.

Kyle chuckled softly. "C'mon, their plane is over there."

Un-slinging their rifles from their shoulders and holding them at ready they dashed the remaining distance bwteen them and the plane's remains. With Francesca guarding his back Kyle did a quick sweep of the wreck, checking the remains of the cockpit and the baggage hold.

Nothing.

Not a trace of the occupants.

"Anything in there?" Francesca asked.

"Nothing. Check the snow."

"Here! The impression of a body and blood marks."

"Too big to be Bannon. Must be Quest. Footprints are heading to the bottom of the valley."

"Three feet and a hole. Quest must've broken a leg."

Kyle began to smile. "That means they have to move slow. Must not have too much of a lead. Safeties off, 'Cesca, my dear. The hunt is now on."

* * *

Gritting his teeth against the incredible growing pain from his ankle and ribs, Jonny paused in their trek. He leaned against a boulder to rest, gasping for breath over his pain. Jessie watched him, occasionally casting a glance to her surroundings. The shallow mountain river nearby masked any and all tiny sounds that could be crucial to them.

"Your spider sense tingling, Ace?" Jonny half quipped between pants.

"Try more ringing like the bells of Notre Dame cathedral. This valley is a logistical nightmare."

He smirked grimly. "That's Race talking, but I agree. Masked sounds, blind corners, too many shadows to hide in. Don't suppose you had a dream to help us out with this one?"

"Trust me, if I had one I would've told you about it long before now. Ready to keep going?"

He nodded and, leaning on both his crutch and Jessie, he hobbled along the river back, heading West still.

* * *

Francesca lay flat against an outcropping boulder on a crest and carefully peered over the edge. Far below, making their way along the riverbank, were their targets: Quest and Bannon. She smiled.

"Kyle, come see this." she called behind her softly.

He appeared at her side. "Good guys are always so predictable." he sneered and took careful aim.

* * *

Jonny suddenly stumbled and fell to the uneven gravel as a crash of thunder filled the valley. Stones exploded from an impact of something flying at a high velocity not far at his side. Instinct took over and he yanked Jessie towards himself behind a large rock.

"You were saying something about this place being a logistical nightmare?" he told her.

"Kyle?"

"Who else? Probably not alone either."

"What do you wanna bet it's Francesca?"

"Of course."

"Well, you wanted a rematch."

"In Questworld where the odds are even, not like this. I can barely walk, let alone fight, and you're weaponless. That kind of odds are those?"

"So let's turn them back in our favor."

"You have a plan." he grinned.

She smirked. "Don't I always? We have to split them up, draw 'em out in the open to see what we're really up against."

"You run and Merrick'll go after you, that's a given."

She frowned, determination setting into her features. "I'll handle him, pyro style." and she got up to a crouch to run.

Jonny grabbed her arm to restrain her a moment more. "Be careful, Ace."

His baby blue eyes spoke volumes to her in that short expanse of time. SO much so that she felt her heart contract sharply. He was terrified for her, just as she was for him. With fierce passion she kissed her lover deeply, one he willingly returned with equal ferocity. They remained forehead to forehead for a moment, their breaths mingling, not willing to part just yet.

"Be right back, Hot Shot." she breathed in reassurance, then took off at a run.

* * *

"That's Bannon. I'd recognize that red hair anywhere." Francesca growled.

"I'll go after her, you handle Quest."

"What!? Why?"

"You hate her too much and might make a mistake she can use. This is my favor and proof of feelings to you. Let me close this door, 'Cesca."

She paused, then began to grin. "Then I'll offer Quest's dead body to you as my gift."

Kyle chuckled. "We're a couple of hopeless romantics."

"Don't let anyone hear you say that." she laughed.

He chuckled again. "Extra gift: You can play with your prey if you want."

"What do you mean by play?"

"Any meaning you want to give it. I'm flexible."

She smirked coyly. "So I've learned."

He laughed. "Have fun, 'Cesca." and he took off after Jessie.

* * *

Jessie Bannon's mind ran on automatic as she dashed between trees. From the heavy sounds some distance behind her she could tell Jonny had been right. Merrick was the one chasing her. She allowed herself a small grin.

Perfect!

She reached into her jacket and pulled out one of the emergency flares she had stuck there, lying the cylinder flat against the length of her forearm. From that position it would be easy for her to flip it and activate it in one move. Now all she had to do was wait for the right opportunity.

A gunshot rendered the air. "Next one's not gonna go wide, Red!" Kyle called to her.

Jessie stopped and smirked. Opportunity!

"Good girl, Red! Don't move!

She heard him walk towards her from behind.

"You know you haven't changed much from the last time I saw you. Still beautiful."

He came closer.

"Each time I was with Francesca I imagined it was you. Can't get you out of my head, Red."

C'mon! Closer, you bastard! she ground inwardly as he moved closer still.

His hand gripped her shoulder. "Let's catch up on old times, shall we?"

In a lightning fast move Jessie activated the flare and pushed the burning end into Kyle's face. He screamed in agony, taking a step back. She didn't let up there. Jessie let the flare drop to the snow and back fisted him hard across his jaw. He dropped his rifle in surprise. In one fluid movement she picked up the rifle and spun a full three hundred sixty degrees. The rifle butt connected hard with his head with a resounding thwack. Kyle reeled backwards, falling to the snow, unconscious. Jessie stood over him, a hard look on her face.

"Told you before, Merrick. Don't call me Red."

* * *

Francesca Hamilton carefully made her way down the crest to the rock behind which Jonny Quest still hid. Her rifle was at ready, prepared to shoot anything in her way. She jogged the final distance to the rock, then stopped and waited. She couldn't hear anything because of the river. She bolted around the rock to face her enemy, rifle at ready. There was Jonny, slumped over to his side, eyes closed. Francesca blinked.

"Dead or unconscious?" she wondered aloud.

The gentle rise and fall of his chest answered her question.

"Unconscious. Must've been in too much pain, Love." she grinned. "Awfully cute when you're out cold."

Silently she put her rifle aside and approached the unconscious teen.

"Too bad you'll miss out of this fun." she cooed.

Before she even had a chance to react, Jonny suddenly came alive. In one move he snatched the knife from her belt and yanked her to the ground by her hair, the blade pressed to her throat.

"Are we having fun yet?" he ground.

Her initial surprise quickly changed to one of mocking anger. "You wouldn't dare kill me. It's not in you."

"Kill you, maybe not, but I don't have to kill you to hurt you."

Her eyes widened in fear. "You wouldn't hit a lady, would you?" came her almost innocent question.

He paused, then released her hair. "No, I wouldn't," She sat up quickly, ready to attack, only to receive a fist hard across the jaw, knocking her out instantly. "… but you're no lady." he ended dispassionately.

Jonny sighed suddenly, fighting his pain again, and stuck the knife in the cuff of his boot before reaching over to take the rifle from where it rested. He managed to stand and, with the weapon slung on his shoulder with the supply pack, he limped away on his crutch in the general direction Jessie had run off in. Hopefully she had fared as well as he had.

* * *

The river ran more smoothly in the area where Jessie was. It barely made a sound which made it all the more easier for her to hear the crunching of ice and gravel under someone's foot from just around an immense boulder. She pressed her back to it, weapon ready, then swung out into the open, rifle pointed ahead of her…

… at Jonny.

Jessie blinked. "Jonny!" she exclaimed in surprise, lowering the gun barrel.

"Jess." he breathed in relief, his free arm extended out to her.

She more than willingly accepted the silent invitation, dropping the rifle and throwing herself against his chest. He winced a groan, but crushed her close despite the pain in his ribs. He buried his face in her hair, his lips pressed to the sensitive spot just behind her ear. She shivered pleasantly and nuzzled his neck gently.

"Francesca…?" she queried softly.

"Out cold. Merrick…?"

"Tied up to a tree somewhere out there."

He pulled back slightly. "Gives us time to put some distance between us and them."

She nodded in agreement and draped his right arm over her shoulders. They continued one their way, their pace slow down the gently sloping valley. Along the way another valley joined to the one they were in, a mighty glacier blocking their way. Only the river could pass, having long ago carved its path under the numerous tons of ice and packed snow. Jonny looked at the wall of ice and growled.

"You have got to be kidding!" he called to no one in particular.

"Can you climb it?" Jessie asked him.

"Don't have much of a choice. Believe it or not, this is the easy route."

"C'mon. Even with a broken ankle it shouldn't be too hard to climb."

"How about a broken ankle and cracked ribs?"

She faced him sharply. "You never told me about the ribs!"

"Was afraid you'd put a splint on them too."

She frowned. "I still might."

"Later. Right now we have the giant ice cube to climb."

* * *

Kyle Merrick, in excruciating pain and enraged, struggled with the leather belt securely wrapped around his wrists, holding him to a tree. The magnesium from the flare that Jessie had pushed into his face still burned atrociously. For that reason alone he was planning painful tortures to put her though in repayment.

"Kyle." came a gentle voice just off to his right.

He knew who this was. "Untie me, 'Cesca."

He heard her gasp suddenly. "My God! What did she do to you?" and she released his wrists.

"The little bitch had a flare with her. I'm gonna pay her back for this though. She's gonna hurt a lot more and a lot longer than I am from this."

Francesca picked up a handful of clear snow and carefully applied it to his burns. He hissed through his teeth at the cold and pain, then looked at her. Kyle could see worry and pain directed at him swimming in those beautiful violet orbs. He had only see those looks in his Sister's eyes and that was only because Samantha was just that, his Sister. He had expected it. Yet here was Francesca displaying feelings he thought only his family would have for him. Kyle let her pull him against herself and rested comfortably in her arms while she tended to his burns.

"Let me take care of Bannon for you." she voiced softly. "I don't want to risk her hurting you even more than she has."

"I want her dead, 'Cesca. I want them both dead."

"Excruciatingly slow." she assured.

"Yeah. Make 'em scream in agony before they die."

"I will, Lover. They'll be in so much pain they'll beg me to kill them to escape it all."

* * *

Fighting the pain numbing his senses, Jonny Quest dragged himself over the ice edge of the glacier, his ribs grinding painfully from the move. He rolled onto his back and panted desperately for air, bright spots playing in front of his eyes. He could hear the gritty sound of sand rushing by his ears, a sure sign he was on the verge of passing out.

"Take deep breaths, Jonny." Jessie's soothing voice broke through the haze. "We can rest here a bit."

"No. Merrick and Francesca are probably on the move again by now." He got up rather shakily. "Let's go."

"You need rest."

"Not while we're being chased by those lunatics, Jess."

She tucked herself close to his side to both support his weight and hold him close, being careful of his ribs. He gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "I'll be okay, Sweetheart. We just have to keep moving."

Being careful of their footing on this vast field of ancient ice and snow, the lone duo began their slow trek, once again heading West. The surface of the ice cracked and popped with each step they took. The sun's rays reflected a blinding white off the immaculate snow. They had to squint hard just to be able to see ahead of them, and even then that wasn't much help.

Jessie shielded her eyes in an attempt to see better. "With this much glare we could walk into a crevice and not notice it until we actually fell in."

"I really hate it when someone says something like that." he grumbled.

"Why?"

"Murphy's Law. It usually ends up happening."

"Pessimist." she accused sweetly.

"No, realist. C'mon, Jess, you know I'm right about this."

"How about this then. If it happens I'll give you the credit for being right and the theory is sound. If it doesn't we can chalk it up to a fluke. Deal?"

"Two side to everything with you." he smirked.

"That's because there is two sides to everything."

"Alright then. The winner picks the prize… given the winner survives."

"Agreed." she grinned.

He chuckled grimly. "Now watch this, because we made such a fuss about it all it'll--"

Without any warning Jonny suddenly fell through the glacier's surface through a hold covered by a thin sheet of ice and snow. For her part Jessie barely had time to grab hold of the edge of the hole to keep herself from falling. Jonny wasn't so lucky. Jessie crawled back onto the glacier and peered desperately down the dark blue depths of the hole.

"Jonny!" she called.

Silence.

Fear crept up her throat. "Jonny! Can you hear me?" she called again.

Again, a thick silence.

Desperation welled up in her as tears began to fall in salty rivers down her cheeks.

"No… Jonny!" she shrieked down the hole.

Jessie scanned the glacier for anything or, by chance, anyone that could be of some help to her. There was nothing.

"No… Not like this… It can't just end like this… Jonny!"

Only silence greeted her.

"Nooooo!" she shrieked, her heart shattering.

"Could it be Lizard Boy is actually, finally dead?" came a mocking voice not far away.

Jessie looked up and immediately brought the commandeered rifle to train on the newcomers: a very burned Kyle Merrick and an anger-filled Francesca Hamilton. Jessie weapon waived back and forth between the two, keeping them at a distance.

"This is all your fault." she growled.

Kyle smiled. "I know. Isn't it wonderful knowing you accomplished one of your greatest wishes?"

Francesca laughed. "One more loose end to take care of and our lives will be perfect, Kyle. Too bad we won't be able to here Quest's cries of pain."

Bannon's frown deepened. "I won't let you enjoy this."

"And how will you do that, Red?" he mocked. "By shooting one of us?"

"As a matter of fact,"

BANG!

"… yes."

The end of the rifle barrel smoked from having just been fired in the cold mountain air. Merrick clutched at his stomach, a stunned look on his face. Horror covered Francesca's features as she watched him fall to his knees, blood flowing from between his fingers. She caught him in her arms, still in shock that Jessie had been hardened enough to do this. It was exactly what had happened to Jonny when he had believed Jessie to be dead back in Cairo. She looked at her only to find her still pointing the rifle at them. Jessie's expression was cold, yet blank.

"Now you know how I feel." she ground at her raven-haired nemesis.

Francesca could only cry.

* * *

"… pull him up gently…"

… …

"… BP sixty over forty… … reflex response in lower extremities…"

… …

"… it's a miracle he's alive…"

… …

Blurry vision.

Blink.

Blink.

Where's that really annoying beeping coming from?

Weak eyes scanned the room.

Hadji?

Race?

Dad?

A flash of shapeless red caught his roaming eyes. He stared and it began to take on a form.

A head.

Bowed slightly.

No, resting on something.

His hand.

The head raised up and a pair of emerald green eyes stared back at him.

Jessie.

She blinked an overjoyed smile. "You're awake." She turned to the others in the room. "He's awake!"

As his family members joyfully crowded around him Jessie carefully lifted the oxygen mask away from his face.

"How're you feeling, Hot Shot?" she questioned gently.

He frowned a tired groan of what best sounded like dismay.

"What is it, kid?" Race asked in concern.

"Hospital." he rasped in clear distaste.

They chuckled at him. "I believe that to mean he will be just fine." Hadji voiced with a smile.

"What happened?" young Quest queried of those around him, his voice a weak rasp.

"While you were on your last leg to Simoom Sound we forced the province 's computers into a crash." Benton Quest explained. "We then shut down all the power to force a reboot."

"And the biological virus?"

"Gone. Marie found the cure and is heading the inoculation as we speak."

"Then… it's over?"

"It is, my Brother. Surd and his group put up very little resistance to our following raid. The weapons they stole were sold in part to fund their work. Those they freed easily surrendered in exchange for a lenient sentence if they co-operated fully."

Jonny turned his attention to Jessie at this point. Happy tears brimmed her eyes as she smiled at him. "Jess, I remember falling. Then what happened?"

"You were unconscious. Have been for the last week now." she told him.

"Figures. Merrick…? Francesca…?"

"Merrick was shot." Race answered.

"Shot?"

"I thought you were dead." Jessie continued. "I didn't want them taking any pleasure in your death. He's not dead. That would've been too good for him."

"Jess…" From the corner of his eye Jonny could barely see Race ushering the others away. Good ol' Race.

Jessie cried as she caressed his face. "I was so afraid I'd lost you. Didn't think you'd wake up this time." she sobbed softly.

"Shh, don't cry." he soothed. "Of course I had to wake up. How could I possibly bring myself to leave my angel?" She had to laugh, despite her tears. "Tell me everything that happened."

She paused, carefully enfolding his hand in hers. "After you fell through the ice, Merrick and Francesca appeared from out of nowhere. They were making fun of the whole thing. In the state I was in I snapped and shot him. In my mind the logical thing to do was to hurt them in payback for everything that had happed that far. They're actually in love."

"Hard to believe." he sighed.

She nodded slowly in agreement. "I ended up going with a cliché. He asked for it. His words exactly, And how will you do that? Meaning stopping them. By shooting one of us?"

"So you did. It's Cairo all over again, only with our roles reversed."

"That's what happened?"

"Yeah, only you took it a step farther than I did."

She sat on the edge of the bed, holding his hand in her lap. "Only because we're more involved now than we were back then."

He allowed himself a weak grin, staring at her hands holding his hand. "Too true." Jonny brushed his fingers against her stomach. "About that, did you ask the doctors here about…?"

"Yes."

"And…?"

"I wasn't."

"Oh."

"I was off my cycle by a bit, that's all."

"Talk about a scare though."

"Disappointed?"

"Well… yes and no. No, because we're still too young for that kind of responsibility and because Race would've killed us. Yes, because I was kind of looking forward to being a Daddy."

A soft, gentle smile touched Jessie's lips. "You'll get the opportunity again someday."

"Far in the future, when we both feel ready." He smiled. "Until then we'll just have to be careful."

"And you wondered how I could ever want you as a boyfriend." she smiled sweetly.

His smile broadened slightly, then he sighed. "Which brings us to our next topic to tackle. Telling our Dads about us."

She groaned. "Into the mouth of Hell."

"Gotta be done."

"I know. Can't this wait until you're better thought?"

"The sooner we get this done the better it'll be."

Jessie sighed as she went to the door. "You're lucky you're in the hospital, Jonny. Dad does anything to you and you can get immediate treatment."

He blanched slightly. "Don't remind me."

She smiled at him in reassurance and opened the door to beckon the others back in. She then helped Jonny sit up before sitting close at his side, his hand once again gripped tightly in her own. Jonny took a few deep breaths from his oxygen mask to help calm the pain before looking at his Father in all seriousness.

"Um… Dad, remember that talk you said we needed to have?" he began slowly.

* * *

"… and I want their blood counts done every four hours to be on the safe side." Marie Métier told the crew of doctors with her. "Don't want anyone to have a flare up when we can stop it."

"YOU WHAT!?" a man's voice reverberated through the hospital halls.

"What was that?" a young nurse asked.

Marie just smiled. "That, I believe, was Race Bannon finding out that his baby girl isn't a baby anymore."

"How do you know?"

"Call it a hunch."

EPILOG:

Doctor Benton Quest lounged back in a wicker chair, a cool glass of iced tea in one hand, a small fan in the other to fan after to mid day heat. Bandit lay at his feet, head propped up comfortably on one of Benton's feet, sound asleep. Race Bannon sat across the way, nose absently pressed in a racing magazine.

"Coming to the Florida Compound was a wonderful suggestion, Race." the elder Quest sighed. "After all that cold up North a little sunshine is just what we needed."

"Too bad Hadji's missin' out on it."

"His Mother was pretty insistent about having his home in Bangalore, though I think that was more Kefira's doing than Neela's."

"Get the feelin' Cupid's workin' overtime on the kids?"

Benton chuckled. "Trying to figure out hope to handle kids with such an adult level of maturity? I would say Cupid is doing an excellent job, all things considered."

"Yeah, I guess."

"Not quite resigned to this, are you?"

"No. You?"

"The same, but there isn't much either of us can do about it."

"I just wish they'd told us sooner."

Benton smirked. "They know your reputation, old friend. They wanted to keep breathing. And would it have really changed anything?"

"No." he replied grudgingly, then sighed. "They grow up so fast." He suddenly broke into an impish grin. "Speak of the devil."

Both Jessie and Jonny froze in the terrace doorway at Race's statement, a look of slight dread on their faces.

"Why is it I never like it when either one of them says something like that?" the blond asked his girlfriend, his blue eyes twinkling at the sight of her bikini and diaphanous wrap around her hips.

"Because it usually means they've been talking about us and we'll never get to hear what it was about."

She helped him to one of the wicker lounging chairs and propped his plaster-encased ankle on a pillow, then sat next to him. Bandit trotted up from where he lay and settled himself comfortably in Jonny's lap.

Race raised a skeptic eyebrow at them. "You two been behavin'?"

Jessie chuckled. "Please, he's hurt enough as it is. I don't want to risk making it worse."

Jonny touched his taped ribs. "What worse is the fact I can't do anything."

He looked up to see both Race and his Father staring at him in shock.

"Wha-- On, no, nothing like that! I mean swimming, paragliding… that sort of stuff. It's boring," he turned to smile at Jessie. "… but I like the attention."

She giggled. "You just like the sponge baths." she quipped.

Race bolted. "You're not--"

""Psych!"" the laughed.

He dropped back into his seat with a dismayed groan. "I'm getting' too old for this."

"So, how long are our friends going to be locked away for this time?" Jonny suddenly thought to ask.

His Father was the one to answer. "Surd is being sent to Belleview for a life sentence. Julia, Lorenzo, Merrick and Francesca each were sentenced to life imprisonment as well and were sent to four different super maximum prisons for the duration of their sentences. None of them are to be given a chance for parole."

"Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch."

"The others are to serve various jail times here and there." Race continued. "Only one person got away from us and the cops." He rubbed his jaw at a painful memory. "Good fighter. She'll be hard to catch."

"Think we might run into her again someday?" Benton queried.

"With our track record, that's a definite. Who knows, maybe next time she'll be on our side."

Jessie rolled her eyes. "Geez, Dad, another interest?"

"Um… well… I--"

She huffed and grinned at Jonny. "And he says we need a leash."

Young Quest took on a playfully pensive look, giving her a lopsided grin. "Leash, hm?"

She smiled a mock warning stare. "Hush, Quest. We don't want to worry them."

He haunched his shoulders with a shy smirk. "Yes, dear."

"Speaking of getting us worried…" began Doctor Quest. "You two have been awfully conspiratory since your release from the hospital."

"Um… we had a lot to talk about, Doctor Quest."

"About what?"

Jonny stared at his hands for a second. "About the fight, about us and which direction we're heading in. A lot of what ifs."

"What ifs?"

"What if she and I broke up, what if one of us died, what if she… got pregnant…"

"Heavy questions." Race mumbled.

"We had to ask them to get answers, Dad." Jessie continued. "There were important decisions to make… and we made them."

"What kind of decisions?"

The two teens smiled, first to each other, then to their Fathers. "For one, when Jess and I finish College, we'll make it official."

The adults frowned in confusion. Official? What had they meant by official? Slowly, theatrically, Jessie raised her left hand to show off a sparkling diamond ring on her finger. Benton immediately recognized this ring. It had once belonged to Rachel, his dear departed wife. He remembered having given the ring to Jonny so as to help him remember his Mother. And Rachel had meant it for him to use when the day came that he found just the right girl. Immediately at that illumination struck him, then Race moments later.

Race began to stand slowly. "Oh, no, you didn't."

The teens merely smiled in confirmation.

Benton laughed outright. "They did!" He stood and clapped the ex-Covert Operations Officer on the shoulder. "Looks like we'll become in-laws within the next five years, old friend."

"I'm getting much too old for this, really, I am." but he couldn't help the happy grin that spread across his face. He couldn't imagine anyone better for his little Ponchita. "Oh God!" he suddenly exclaimed in what sounded like shock.

""What?"" the three queried in worry.

"How am I goin' to break this news to Estella?"

They were silent for a heartbeat, then broke into the throes of laughter.

THE END

7 February, 2000