Status: Active.

Little Hand Grenade

Chapter 5

The show went smoothly, and without any incidents. Alex's arm was already doing better, but I had more gauze ready for him when we got back to the bus. The next stop was all the way down in southern California, and normally they would fly, but according to Jack, if the world ended in December like it was supposed to, they wanted to tour like "real men" or whatever that meant. He didn't laugh when I told him real men toured Iraq.

Jack had been a source of comfort for me. He made me laugh when I didn't want to, he joked around with me and his presence reminded me of Captain...well, we won't go there.

The bus was on the move again, and Alex sat still as I changed his bandage. He didn't flinch as I cleaned the wound.

"That's a pretty nice hole," I commented, and he sucked in a gulp of air sharply when I stuck my pinky in it. "I don't know what Joe was talking about, you're healing just fine."

"Thanks for that," he groaned, and sighed with relief when I rubbed some painkilling salve around it before wrapping it again. While he changed into clothes to sleep in, he added: "Beauty pageants, huh?"

"You didn't have to be pretty to compete," I said hastily to avoid any comments on my looks. "My mom was ambitious. I didn't have any talents other than looking into a camera, which is probably why she wanted me to go to that school in New York. Anyone can be pretty when they cake that much makeup on you."

"Well, you aren't ugly," he said, looking at me sideways after pulling the shirt over his head. If he was trying to make me uncomfortable by changing in front of me, it wasn't working. I lived with mostly men of every shape and size for the last six years.

"Thanks," I mumbled awkwardly, unsure of how to react to his politely-delivered compliment. Vulgar cat-calls and howling I could deal with. "I think I'm...going to try to sleep. Don't let anyone on the bus if we stop, and please wake me up if you need to get off of the bus. Understand?"

"But what if you look all peaceful and sleepy--"

"Wake me up," I ordered, and he nodded with a smirk.

"Okay," he said, and I slowly leaned back until I was stretched out on the sofa. "Even if I only have to pee?"

"Especially if you have to pee. I don't want some fan girl to hide in the bathroom and catch you with your pants down."

"Did you just make a joke?!" he exclaimed, and I didn't bother hiding my amused smile.

"No," I replied. "It's the truth. They would literally catch you with your pants down. Do you want to be shot again?"

"Not really."

"Don't worry about me, it's my job to worry about you, understand?" I said, leaning up to my elbows so I could see his face better. It looked resigned, and he held out a blanket. "I've got one. Thanks though."

"I feel very strange around you," he said, covering himself with the blanket and letting his head drop onto the pillow.

"You should, this isn't a normal relationship," I said, digging my blanket out of my bag.

"Can I at least lend you pajamas or something? You should be comfortable, even if you think you don't need to be," he said, and went back to his suitcase to toss a pair of pants at me. "If it makes you feel better, my last ex gave them back to me at the beginning of this tour and I haven't worn them since. Please wear them. I have this uncontrollable need to be nice and you are making it really hard to follow through by not accepting things, so just take whatever I give you, okay?"

"Fine, I'll wear the pants," I said, throwing off the blanket and taking off my jeans.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" I think I only made things worse by leaving them around my ankles.

"I'm accepting your gift of pajamas, what is the problem now?" His face turned a little red, and he let out a long, controlled sigh. "Right. Women change in the bathroom around here. Too late now. I'll try and remember that next time. Jack didn't seem to be nearly as flustered as you are."

"That's because it's Jack, he was probably eyeballing you."

"You're going to have to do a little more than eyeballing to offend me," I scoffed, and pulled my blanket back over me after I put the pajamas on. I had to admit, they were better than sleeping in jeans. I suppose it was time to get used to being comfortable. The Army was comfortable, especially when you were in my position, but it wasn't the same as being back in America. I kept my eyes open and watched Alex. He realized I was waiting for him to go to sleep, and laid down facing away from me. Only then did I close my eyes.

* * *

The days slid by at an achingly slow pace. Vanessa was on high alert the moment we crossed the border into California, but nothing happened. She didn't share anything else with me, and only spoke in clipped sentences and snappy tones. In other words, she was as horrible as ever. She even took to throwing people off stage when they body surfed the crowd to get to me. The only reason she wasn't in jail was because she was ex-military.

"This sucks," I groaned, letting my head hang back loosely. "Not only is she in a constantly bad mood, there's no reason for her to be here at all."

"She's nice to me, I don't know what your problem is," Jack said, standing in line with me at Starbucks. She had agreed to let me walk the whole one-hundred-fifty feet from the bus to the coffee shop with only Jack for protection. She trusted him, and she was never mean, snappy or short with him.

"I have no idea," I said, stuffing my hands into my jacket pockets. "After she told me about why she joined the Army, she's been a complete bitch."

"She's troubled, Alex, she's not a bitch," he said seriously with a touch of sympathy in his voice. "Did she tell you about Captain Adams?" I furrowed my eyebrows and looked up at him.

"No, did she tell you?"

"Yeah, yesterday," he said plainly, walking up to the counter to order our drinks. Hmph. Like I care anyway. She's a brute, I thought, balling my hands into fists. Jack and I were silent as we waited for our coffees--he had gotten one for Vanessa, too--and I took my sweet time walking back to the bus, reluctant to be trapped with her for another ten hours.

She sat cross-legged on her perch across from my bunk, and smiled broadly for Jack. He dropped down next to her, handed over one of the cups, and draped an arm around her shoulder. She didn't body slam him, or toss him about the bus like a giant rag doll. Or tie him in knots. I quelled the tiny flare of jealousy and pretended like it never happened. There was nothing to be jealous of.

* * *

Alex looked like someone made him suck on lemons while he was in line for Starbucks. He scowled at everything that moved, and especially at me. I wanted to say something, but Jack, the thoughtful man that he was, delivered coffee. He rested his arm around my shoulders and for once, my first reaction was a smile. He didn't know it, but his friendliness was overcoming a lot of my old insecurities.

"Don't mind him," he said, and squeezed me to his chest in reassurance. "He's had a rough time since the shooting." I had abandoned trying to talk to Alex. It was clear that I couldn't manage it without literally hurting him.

"I can't talk to him, he drives me insane," I said, growling under my breath. "He doesn't understand why I'm here, and he doesn't want to. If he gets himself hurt on my watch--"

"Yes, yes, we know," he said with a laugh. "You will kill us all."

"Ugh, this is unbearable. What am I supposed to do? Random girls are getting onto the stage, grabbing onto him and making my job harder that it needs to be. I obviously can't throw them back into the crowd. We saw how that worked out," I said, the memory still making me chuckle inside. The look on her face...

"I don't know. Get him wasted and see what happens," Jack suggested. "People are always easy to persuade when they're judgment is drowned, face-down and bloated." Aw, why didn't I think of that?!

"Jack, you are a blessing, don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"May your path always be lighted, O brave one." I knew what I was doing at the next bus stop.
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I am awful at updating sometimes, and I'm sorry!
Thoughts on this? The next one should be fun :)
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