"Something's bothering you." It was a statement instead of a question, and Jason found himself caught off-guard. He flicked a glance in her direction before responding.
"I'm fine," he said stiffly.
She laughed and reached out a tentative hand. When he didn't flinch away, she began to gently massage his shoulder.
"Jason, your posture is stiff, your voice is tense, and you're gripping the steering wheel so hard that I can hear it crack. Rain is pounding the windshield and I feel the car sliding the car back and forth in the wind." He turned toward her briefly, surprised at the extent of her accuracy, but she kept right on talking, massaging the stiffness out of his right shoulder. "Now, normally," she continued, "I would assume that this kind of weather would make a driver tense. But you race rallies so I know that's not it." She stopped rubbing his shoulder and turned to face him, her eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. "Out with it."
He sighed. "I've got a devil of a headache, Camille. And driving in this weather isn't helping."
"Your eyes are bothering you, too," she said, in that same defiant, matter-of-fact tone.
Guiltily, he reached up beneath his glasses and attempted to rub away the blurriness. How could she possibly know that? The thought crossed his mind at the same time a low groan subconsciously escaped his lips. He swore inwardly. Have I been groaning for the last hour? What else have I been doing that I don't know about?
When he didn't respond, Camille added, "Why don't we stop at the next rest area? There should be one coming up about now."
The rain slowed and Jason smiled at the small blue sign now visible on the shoulder of the highway. He pulled off at the next exit ramp, parked in a slot near the rest rooms, turned off the ignition, and leaned his head back against the headrest with a sigh. "Now what, fearless leader?"
She smiled back. "I'll call my dad and tell him you're not feeling well and we're going to be late getting back. You walk around to clear your head. The fresh air will do you good."
The smile left his face as she began to dial the phone. He clamped a heavy hand on her arm. "No."
Camille pulled back, clearly startled by his reaction. "Jason, you're scaring me."
He wrestled the phone away from her. "You're not calling your father," he growled.
"Just try and stop me," she snapped back, jabbing at his groin. "Give me back my phone!"
Right then, Jason looked out the windshield to find two grandmotherly figures, huddled under an umbrella, glancing curiously into his car. He waved them along with a half smile, allowing Camille to get in a good whack at his nether regions.
"Hey!" he yelled, grabbing both her wrists, panting from the pain. "What in the hell is wrong with you? Knock it off!"
Camille was as close to hysterical as Jason had ever seen her. He continued to pin her wrists as she flailed in his arms. "Give me back my phone!" she demanded.
Realization dawned slowly for Jason. As independent as Camille was, she still relied heavily on certain things to maintain her bearings. Taking her phone away wasn't just restricting access to her father, it was as cruel as taking her cane.
"Not until you promise me something," he said, voice like flint, slapping the phone into her palm without letting her go.
"What?" she growled, twisting beneath his grip like a fish on the line.
He took a deep breath, trying to find the best way to phrase the sentence. "I ... can't ... Don't tell your dad I'm not feeling well, okay?" Despite his best efforts, Jason knew he came across as petulant and needy. He released his hold on her, embarrassed by his weakness.
But his words had the desired effect. Camille relaxed in his arms and reached a tentative hand back in his direction. "Jason?"
He gripped her hand firmly and pulled her fingers to his lips. "I'm sorry that I scared you, Camille. But you can't tell your dad about my headaches or anything like that."
"Why not?" she reasoned. "He might be able to help. And if there's something really wrong with you, he'll find out eventually anyway," she said, more confused than exasperated. "He's a consultant for the Ethics Board of Galaxy Security."
"Jason, you're scaring me again. Do you have a death wish or something? If there's a problem with your implant, maybe Dad could help. His template was used by the original design team."
"I know. I know." He racked his brain, trying to think of a way out of this conversation. He was in so deep now. Anderson would kill him if he knew about this little chat, unless Mark overheard it and killed him first. "Look, your dad already knows I'm Chief Anderson's son. If you tell him about my problems, he might put two and two together."
"And figure out what? That you're G-Force? He already suspects that."
She was too clever for her own good. Jason swore and placed a hand to his head. He loved her. If he didn't love her this would be so much easier. He could lie through his teeth and never see her again.
"Jason?" She was clearly waiting for an explanation.
"I had brain surgery about a year-and-a-half ago. Spectra figured out a way to scramble the circuitry of our implants using bursts of light." He heard her inhale, felt her stiffen. "I nearly died. The director of medical was a Spectran plant. He's in a Federation prison now but we still don't know who he collaborated with. It could be anybody. Chief Anderson doesn't trust anyone with our medical information." Jason sighed. "Word leaked out that both the Eagle and the Condor had brain surgery. So the Chief made sure that news of our full recovery spread far and wide, especially among Federation brass."
Her sunglasses slipped down, revealing eyes brimming with tears. "But you're not okay, are you?" When he didn't answer, she started to cry. "Oh, Jason."
He quickly added, "But I'm better, Camille, lots better than I was. I can do my job. I just get tired more easily now and that makes everything harder." He twisted the clasp of his G-Force bracelet and stared at his hands. "I could be court-martialed for telling you this." He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. Camille stroked his arm.
He turned toward her, adding in an earnest tone, "No one can know about the extent of the weakness in the design, Camille. No one. Especially not the design team. What if someone put a backdoor in there on purpose? Who knows what else they might try? Chief Anderson has managed to convince everyone that we've recovered, that the rest of the team is fine, and the new implants are secure." He swallowed hard. "I know he's bluffing. I just don't know how much."
Camille sniffed and shook her head.
Jason closed his eyes and massaged his temples. "I don't get these headaches often any more, but when I do, it's brutal." He grimaced and she winced in sympathy.
"I'm sorry, Jason," she whispered. Then Camille snuggled close and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm glad you told me. We can sit here as long as you need to. I love you. No matter what."
He replaced his glasses and hugged her back, feeling the same delicious sense of unity that he had felt the first time their souls touched. He clung desperately to her. But nagging doubts still crept in.
Every girl I've ever loved has betrayed me. Will you be next?