Expect the Unexpected

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Over the next few days, Lee gleaned what little she could about Alex during her visits. Most of her visits began with bringing her food and water and then patiently waiting for the Topsider to wrangle her mind away from the haze of healing, but every day Lee watched Alex grow sharper and more aware

In the rare instances the two spoke, Alex continued to ask her repetitious set questions centered around where she was and who the Undergrounders were. Lee made sure to deflect as much as possible and remain covered from head to heel, wrapping her face and going so far as wearing ski goggles and gloves to further distort her troubling features. She looked like an extra from a steampunk apocalypse movie-Mad Max minus the bondage gear-but the disguise served its purpose and kept Alex from climbing the walls out of fear.

Lee deflected as many questions as possible, keeping answers vague or turning them back on Alex. Seldom would the Topsider actually answer with whole truths, but sometimes Lee got half an answer that let her peek into the comings and goings of the woman who had inexplicably dropped into her life.

Alex was a journalist — Lee didn't reveal she knew that already. She lived in an apartment somewhere in Manhattan, didn't have any pets, enjoyed reading, loved Asian food, didn't have a pizza preference, enjoyed the occasional documentary, and graduated near the top of her class. All Alex gleaned from Lee was that she lived in the Underground all her life, the constant tapping was people communicating with one another through the pipes, and that they were inexplicably still in New York.

"How's that even remotely possible?" Alex gaped in complete disbelief. "Sewer engineers would have found out years ago."

It's an old system, and we are very good at keeping hidden.

With a routine set, Alex's healing could begin, but it was slow going and excruciating. Without the full range of standard hospital medicine, she was forced to endure her recovery in the raw without painkillers or sedatives — Mother refused to offer any more of Taft's supply — which meant Alex woke in tears more times than she wanted to admit.

Sometimes, she could wrestle unconsciousness back and drift into a milky haze somewhere between asleep and awake. Sometimes, the agony was enough to render her a sobbing mess until exhaustion claimed her. And any plea she managed to choke into the semi-darkness was met with silence. Alex thought no one could hear, but someone did, every time, and it killed Lee a little more each night hearing the woman cry out for relief that would never come.

Tonight was no different. The pain had her in its grip, stunting her breathing and making her feel like she was suffocating. Tears rolled in hot lines down her face. Alex curled her fingers into the blankets to the point of cramping, jaw sore from bearing down on her molars.

I'm sorry, a voice drifted from the shadows, startling her enough she flinched. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help.

Alex knew who was speaking without having to look. "It hurts," she hiccupped, fighting not to squirm. It was like her body was trying to pry itself away from itself. If only she could shift in just the right way, she would find the perfect position for relief. "It never stops."

I know. I...Alex heard a defeated sigh and tilted her head in the direction of the sound. I only have what's available to us down here, which isn't much. But...when I was little, something that helped me through hard times was when Mother read to me. I could...do the same for you. It might take your mind off the pain.

It was such a strange offer, the notion actually gave her pause. No one ever read to her, not even her parents when she was little. They just weren't the type, but Alex was nodding regardless of the oddity, desperate for anything to take her mind off the here and now. Realizing Lee couldn't see her gesture of affirmation, Alex managed a strained, "Okay," between hard swallows.

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