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Chapter 35: Miles To Go
Sector Seven, Terminal City Infirmary, Two Nights Later
Brax and Rand paced the waiting room, impatient for Sari to tell them whether Alec was awake or not.
After they'd returned to Terminal City, both Alec and Jess had been treated for a couple of hours before they'd finally been allowed to rest. At least, Alec had been allowed to rest. Jess had been cornered and grilled by a frustrated Dix and Luke, who'd tried in vain all day to reverse the damage the virus had wrought on the command centre's computer systems. After she'd given them the cipher they needed, the two transhumans had finally been able to get Headquarters up and running again.
Rand's job had been rather entertaining in comparison. He'd volunteered to retrieve Logan from captivity in the basement next door to his own home. Jess hadn't even bothered to gag the man, who'd started babbling about the 'anti-personnel mine that psycho blonde put on his lap'. The cyber-journalist had almost fainted when Rand had simply tossed the 'mine' aside like the garbage it was and cut his bonds.
Rand had then been subjected to an interrogation about the current state of affairs and had been tempted to punch his lights out when Logan refused to be left behind. In the end, Rand had compromised and promised that he would have Boyd bring the human to TC once the transgenics had everything under control.
There were times that Rand thought Logan forgot exactly who he was dealing with.
"Okay, guys, he's awake," Sari informed them. "You can go in."
"Thanks," Brax replied. Both Alec and Jess had slept for the better part of thirty hours and no-one, not even Max, had been allowed to disturb them.
As the pair rounded the corner they almost ran headlong into a willowy, battered blonde with her left arm in a sling. Beneath the fading cuts and bruises she was clearly very attractive, a fact not lost on Rand. He quickly summoned his most charming smile, the one that had made him a favourite in bars all over Seattle.
"Sorry about that," he said graciously.
"You guys were at the warehouse," she observed, recognizing them immediately. "I'm Jess," she introduced herself, shaking their hands in greeting.
"I'm Rand, this is Brax," Rand replied, his eyes running over the length of her. Jess met his gaze unwaveringly.
"Cool names. How'd you come up with them?" she asked.
"Mine just kinda popped into my head," Brax explained, then jerked his thumb at his friend, "but he's a randy little devil." The male in question just gave her a saucy wink and Jess let out a ripple of laughter.
"Can you guys tell me where Alec is? I wanted to swing by and see how he's doing."
"Sure, we were just on our way there. He's down the hall, third on the left," Brax told her, pointing her in the right direction.
"Thanks," she replied with a smile as she walked past them. "Are you guys coming?"
"Hell yes," Rand agreed, his gaze fixed on Jess's gently swaying hips. Brax put a restraining hand against his chest.
"We'll be right there," Brax told her. She continued on her way, suppressing a Cheshire-cat grin. "Get a grip, will ya?" Brax muttered to Rand.
"Oh, come on, she is hot," Rand said appreciatively.
"She's also Alec's sister. That means no," Brax said firmly.
"She's a big girl, Brax."
"You've got enough blonde problems as it is. Jess is off-limits, brother," Brax impressed on him.
"All right, all right," Rand reluctantly agreed. "Why'd you have to ruin a perfectly good fantasy by bringing her into it?"
"Desperate times…" Brax shrugged as the two males followed Jess's lead. "Come on, Kestrel's not so bad."
"She's a ferret," Rand replied shortly.
"Don't let Shaine hear you call her that or you'll have brunette problems as well," Brax warned.
"I can handle Kestrel and Shaine," Rand assured his friend. Brax just shook his head.
"Your funeral," he replied dryly. Rand gave Brax an irritated glance but didn't pursue the subject further.
They found Jess sitting beside Alec on his bed. Alec's trademark smirk was back with a vengeance. The two males sat down and before long the entire group was swapping war stories.
Almost an hour later, they were still chatting and laughing when there was a knock at the door.
Alec looked up to find Max loitering in the doorway. Despite having a black eye and a dark purple bruise that marred the entire left side of her cheek and neck, she seemed relaxed for the first time in days.
"Can I come in?" she asked.
"Sure," he told her, gesturing for her to enter. "Can we have a minute, guys?"
"No problem," Brax agreed immediately, getting to his feet. Rand followed suit but Jess took a moment to linger and playfully ruffle Alec's hair.
"Hey!" he protested, batting her hand away. She stuck her tongue out at him and grinned unrepentantly before walking past Max into the corridor. The brunette watched the exchange with quiet amusement and more than a little bit of envy.
"I wasn't sure you'd want to see me," Max admitted, her fingers fiddling with the pockets of her jeans.
"Well, you're not packing, that's a good sign," he joked.
"Like I said, I don't do guns," she replied., making her way over to sit beside him on the bed as Jess had. "You look better."
Understatement, she thought to herself. Due to the combination of two blood transfusions from a pair of X5s and his body's natural healing capabilities, he was expected to make a full and no doubt swift recovery. His skin had already regained its normal colour but he was under strict orders from the medics to stay in the infirmary for a solid week. Max had no illusions that he'd obey the injunction.
"I feel better," Alec informed her. "I'll be good as new in a couple of days."
"We don't heal that fast, Alec," Max reminded him. "Make the most of it. We've got our work cut out for us."
"Is that a not-so-subtle hint that we're Public Enemy Number One again?"
"Pretty much," Max replied. "The media was all over that warehouse after we got you and Jess out. We're back where we started."
"Have you talked to Jess yet?"
"I haven't figured out an approach that doesn't include yelling," Max told him honestly.
"She's Manticore, Max. She's used to yelling."
Max had to admit that he had a point.
"So she's staying?" Max asked. Alec nodded.
"Yeah, she's sticking around."
"It's kinda weird. Every time I look at her I think about Eva."
"Yeah," Max replied. "I never really thought about whether she had a twin."
"It's probably weird for her too, you know. We grew up with Sam."
"I just wish she'd make an effort with Joshua."
"Give her time. You remember what I was like at first. Joshua'll teach her."
"I guess he will," Max said, smiling at the thought of the dog-man.
Outside in the waiting room, Jess watched as Sari pointed a familiar, bespectacled man in the direction of Alec's room. After a second's consideration, she detached herself from Brax and Rand to follow him at a more leisurely pace.
Max and Alec just sat in silence, both unsure of what to say next. It stretched on until Max plucked up her courage and tentatively asked what she'd been wanting to ask since she'd walked into the room.
"Are we okay?"
Alec regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, his hazel eyes fixed on her face. Max swallowed hard as she waited for his answer.
"We will be," he replied gently.
Max's hand slid down into his. He gave it a gentle squeeze. Then she hugged him tightly, taking him completely by surprise.
"Don't scare me like that again, okay?" she said as Alec's arms went around her and she felt him smile against her neck.
"I'm not going anywhere, Maxie," he assured her.
"I hope I'm not interrupting."
Alec looked up as Max stiffened in his arms. He released her immediately and she whirled to face Logan, who was sporting a rather large, painful-looking egg on his head. His glasses were skewed and he was dragging what appeared to be the mangled remains of his exoskeleton.
He was also glaring at Alec, who wanted to groan in frustration. He was sick of the hacker's attitude.
"What's going on in here?" Logan asked, looking from Max to Alec and back again.
"Nothing," Max replied quickly. "I just –"
A hand clamped down on Logan's shoulder from behind, making the older man wince as he turned to find himself face-to-face with Jess. His spine went rigid, a flicker of anxiety flashing through his eyes.
Thank God, Alec thought, raising his eyes to the ceiling. Saved by the blonde.
"It's commonly known as 'getting over it'. You should try it sometime," Jess explained, answering Logan's earlier question. She could sense the tension between the three occupants of the room.
Logan backed up as Jess stepped into the room, her piercing eyes fixed on the human. At that moment, Alec could see the predator in Jess. Her movements were fluid, so graceful compared to the retreating human. He'd seen Max move like that and wondered briefly if Logan ever had… or if he'd ever taken the time to notice.
"Come on. We need to have a talk," Jess told Logan, glancing towards the door.
"I don't think so," Logan replied, folding his arms across his chest.
"I don't care what you think," Jess assured him, her expression impassive once more. "Move."
Alec's lips twitched. Usually he wouldn't wish Jessie's wrath on anyone but he was tempted to make an exception in Logan's case. If anyone could keep the hacker in line, Jess could.
Max knew she should protest as Jess steered a clearly apprehensive Logan out of the door but she honestly couldn't summon the will. She was glad that Logan was all right but she just didn't want to deal with his irrational jealousy of Alec right at that moment.
Jess marched Logan down the corridor so that they were out of earshot. He kept glancing back over his shoulder, as if he were worried that she was going to pounce at any moment.
"What's the matter, Logan?" she asked mischievously when they came to a halt. "Do I scare you?"
"Of course not," he denied, squaring his shoulders against the implication. Jess raised a sceptical eyebrow but seemed to consider his words.
"Hmm. That can be fixed," she decided, tossing her hair back over her shoulders.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Logan asked sharply.
"You don't like Alec, do you?" Jess asked straight out.
"I like him just fine," Logan replied.
"You're a shitty liar," Jess told him. "So listen up, 'cause I'm only gonna say this once. I don't know how things used to work around here but now I'm watching Alec's back."
"Is that supposed to be some oblique kind of threat?" Logan challenged her.
"There's nothing oblique about it. You've read my file, right?"
Logan nodded warily.
"Good. Use your imagination," Jess told him. "Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out."
"I'm not leaving until I've spoken to Max," Logan asserted stubbornly.
"Have it your way," Jess replied. Before Logan even knew what was happening, Jess had grabbed him by the ear and was dragging him towards the Infirmary entrance. Eyes Only's struggles drew the incredulous attention of every transgenic they passed until Jess all but threw him out of the building.
With a satisfied nod, Jess turned and strode back inside, leaving Logan fuming on the street.
"Are you all right, man?" a green-eyed X5 male asked, torn between laughing at the scene he'd just witnessed and sympathy for the ordinary their newest citizen had just humiliated.
Logan just glared at him and stalked off in the direction of Headquarters. With a shrug, the transgenic carried on about his business.
By the time Jess returned to Alec's bedside, Max had already left.
"So how do you like it here?" he asked.
"It's pretty cool," she admitted, "but it's seriously deficient in the entertainment department."
"I'm sure you'll fix that soon enough," Alec replied with a chuckle.
"Life's never dull when I'm around, is it?" Jess agreed ruefully.
"Definitely not," Alec said with a grin. "Have you met everyone?"
"Brax and Rand are a blast," she told him.
"I think Manticore took the concept of man's best friend a little far."
"Get to know him a bit," Alec advised. "You'll like him."
"If you say so," she hedged.
"I do," Alec told her, then added slyly, "He likes to read, you know."
That got her attention.
"Really?" she asked, her interest piqued. "What does he read?"
"A lot of different stuff," Alec replied. "Ask him and find out."
She smiled curiously. "All right, I will."
Alec reached out and gently stroked her pale gold hair away from her face.
"Everything's gonna be okay, Jessie," he whispered.
Her blue-green eyes met his hazel ones as she sighed and shook her head.
Stay tuned for BEFORE I SLEEP: DAMAGE…