Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

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Chapter 47: Whirlwind

Author's Notes/Warnings: Observation of secret kisses, PR education, trial grillings, new tails

Hey, everyone! Life continues to go on for our heroes, so here's more about their latest shows, trial subjects, and romances...

A million bows to my editor-in-chief, gwoman for helping me to improve my writing always. :D

Back to Chapter 46

Somehow, when she’d thought about it before it had begun, Lex had figured that the trial would happen and be over and justice would be served and everyone would go on with their lives. Until she'd talked with Lily, Lex hadn't thought about the fact that they'd all need to live with the trial in one way or another for some time.

A few days after they'd arrived back in Brussels, Lex got an emailed summons to a meeting in the captain’s office. She raised an eyebrow as she got to his office and realized that everyone on the day shift who'd gone to the opening of the trial had arrived too, including Derek. Assuming the captain had gotten news about the proceedings, Lex took a seat and waited.

“I’ve been told that they'll be holding off reviewing preliminary evidence about the MSI case until after the holidays,” Captain Shapiro told the assembled group. “They said that they’ll be calling all of you as witnesses at some point after that. You’re going to be called in whatever order they decide, so chances are that only one or two of you will be away from here at any point.”

Silence followed as Lex glanced around at her friends, looking at Lily in particular, who sported a resigned expression and had folded her hands in her lap. Kate's voice piping up a moment later cut into Lex's thoughts. “So, Captain, did they give you any idea of when they thought they might start calling us back?”

Captain Shapiro raised an eyebrow. “Not exactly, but I got the impression when I talked to the person who called that a good deal of preliminary evidence would be presented to the court to start with. From the little I know about such things, I imagine there will be several weeks around the holidays when the court won't meet. So, I wouldn't be surprised if you don't hear back from them until springtime. Of course, that would be great around here because all of you could start getting back to your normal duties.”

Lex tried not to smirk at the implied, “you slackers” in that sentence, while Kate laughed aloud and Casey choked back something that sounded like a chuckle. “Good,” Casey said a moment later. “That should give me some time to set up some tour dates on the weekends.”

The dubious look that Lou shot in Casey's direction wasn't something that Lex missed. “You know you're going to have to get the dates approved by the whole band, right?”

Casey sighed. “I know, I know.”

“Ladies, gentlemen,” Captain Shapiro held his hands up. “I don't need to know the details of what you do in your spare time. Are there any questions you want to ask about anything we've discussed today?”

Seeing Lily shooting her a significant glance at the same moment as Kate poked her back with a pen, Lex rubbed her spine and shot a dirty look at Kate as she spoke. “We did want to talk to you about something, but it's not related to the trial.”

Derek had risen from his seat but remained in place. “Ms. Lex, do you need me here? I can stay if you want me to.”

“That's all right, Derek. I'm guessing you were in the middle of practice with Mr. Chen, so go back to it if you want.” Lex smiled up at him as he grinned back at her and left the office, closing the door behind him.

“Actually, Captain,” Lex began, “it's Derek we wanted to talk to you about.”

Kate explained the situation with Derek in the Special Forces building on the weekends, and Lily chimed in with her assessment of his state of mind. The group of them finished by outlining their proposal and how they planned to keep him safe should he need to leave the house.

Captain Shapiro remained silent for a long while before he spoke again, and Lex watched him look at everyone in turn as he did. “I don't know; I think it would probably be better if he stayed here.”

Kate had an angry expression when she opened her mouth, but Lex's glance over at her silenced her for the moment. “Is he under arrest, Captain?” Lex asked.

He looked at her in disbelief. “No. He didn't end up breaking any laws, although he did skirt legality with some of the things he did when he got here. At any rate, his cooperation with the ICC likely means no charges will be coming his way.”

“All right, so he's not under arrest. Is his visa still valid?” Lex queried, raising an eyebrow.

“I think so. When I first checked on it, I found he had one for six months, so he should be OK for now. I guess we can follow up with the court after that, assuming he needs to stay here longer,” the captain replied, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning at Lex.

She continued to look him straight in the eye. “So in essence, he's free to go at any time if he wants?”

Captain Shapiro's frown deepened. “Yes, but where to? You've heard his story: he hasn't got anywhere to go.”

“He can stay with us,” Casey said a moment later, her expression serious, and Lex couldn't help but smile as she saw it, knowing how the idea of anyone homeless or hungry seemed to bother her friend.

“Is there something in particular that's bothering you about the idea of him staying with us on the weekends?” Lex asked, wondering if something more stood behind the captain's argument.

Sighing, he ran a hand over his very short hair. “I know the case with the ICC isn't going to stand or fall on anyone's testimony in particular, but Derek seems to have intimate knowledge of what went on at MSI. Also, the rest of the people that this team is fielding to testify for that case all live under one roof.”

He didn't continue, but Lex thought she could see where his train of thought led. “Do you really think that if they sent someone to the house that they'd get all of us?”

“No, but I don't want to give them extra incentive,” Captain Shapiro answered in a sharp voice, but Lex thought she could hear his tone changing.

“Look, you don't have to make a final decision now,” Lex replied. “Why don't we do a trial over the next couple of weekends? If it goes well, maybe it can continue. In the meantime, at least we can get Derek out of the office for a little while.”

The captain sighed and scrubbed at the back of his head for a moment. “Captain, come on, please!” Kate threw in, bouncing in her chair, and Lex could see her friend struggling to look serious.

“All right, all right,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice, but Lex noted the man's smile as well. “If anything happens, I'm going to fire the lot of you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Lex replied as Kate let out an excited whoop. “We'll do our best not to disappoint you.”

Lex could see all of her friends grinning to one degree or another as they left the captain's office, and Kate insisted on running down to the martial arts gym to tell Derek right away.

Over the next couple of weeks, Lex found herself getting back into the normal routines of work at the Special Forces headquarters and feeling relieved that she no longer had an outsized mystery to solve. One thing had changed, however, and Lex wondered if Riss and Victor's love of a finished project had rubbed off on her, because she realized that she always found some time in the evenings—if only just a half-hour—to work on the arm. Due to the sheer volume of what needed to be done, Lex sometimes felt frustrated, but she just kept at it the same way she knew the rest of the lab team must be doing.

She knew Casey had begun scheduling tour dates for the band according to the schedule that Lou and Riss had insisted on of at least a week off a month. Although they had strict scheduling needs due to their Special Forces work, Casey reported having no trouble finding them places to play. “Just so you know, everyone,” she warned them, “a number of the venues are a lot larger than many of the clubs we've done before, so keep that in mind.”

On a Saturday in mid-November, however, one week before their tour dates started, Lex wasn't considering that. In the middle of the night she found herself awake and edgy, sure that some loud noise outside had woken her. She heard nothing by the time she woke up, but her nerves' response had her wide awake. Looking over to her left, she smiled to see Rolf sleeping on his side, turned in her direction with a warm hand around her waist.

She looked at the clock, which read just past two, and sighed and turned over, cuddling her head into the pillow and willing herself to get back to sleep. Later, after looking back at the clock and realizing twenty minutes had passed without her heart rate slowing much, Lex carefully maneuvered her way out of bed without waking Rolf. Putting on some sweats to keep warm, she yawned once and made her way upstairs in stockinged feet, figuring that at least she might be able to get some work in on the arm before she got tired again.

Yawning again as she reached the attic, Lex padded towards the lab. As she rounded the edge of the doorway, she put her foot out to take another step, then froze. Her glance into the lab had her raising her eyebrows in surprise, and she put her foot down with great care, trying to remain silent.

Wanting to be sure of what she'd spotted, Lex craned her neck around and glanced back into the lab. She could see Derek sitting on one of the stools they kept in there, his back turned towards the lab bench nearest the door. He faced Victor, who stood in front of him, a hand on Derek's jaw line, pulling his face close. Her heart seemed to speed up from a stop as she watched them kissing, Derek's head tilting to deepen their kiss. Derek's hands came up to clutch at Victor's back, and he seemed to take that as a challenge, moving in closer to Derek and making a low noise that carried all the way to the hall.

Lex smiled to herself as she eased back away from the lab doorway. She could feel the smile still on her face as she opened her door again, slow enough to minimize the sound of the latch, and took off her sweats, slipping back into bed. She smiled wider as Rolf made a noise in his sleep and wrapped his arms around her again. I guess I'll see about doing some more work in the lab tomorrow, she thought as she closed her eyes with a happy sigh.

The following weekend, Lex found out to her surprise that Casey hadn't been kidding. She'd booked them as the headline act at a venue in the suburbs of Berlin, and Lex found herself backstage, looking apprehensively out at hundreds of cheering fans. The previous band had just finished, and the crowd seemed to bubble with excitement, some of the people beginning to yell for Alexander's Army.

“So, was this ever in your mind on the day you suggested that we should try being a touring band?” Lex turned to look at Riss, who'd appeared at her shoulder, smiling gently. Lex recognized the irony in that tiny curl of the lips.

“Not at all,” she murmured, moving aside to allow Lou and Derek to go by as they carried the band's equipment to the stage. Derek had wanted to accompany the band as they toured, so he had insisted on becoming their roadie, watching Lou setting everything up so that he could repeat it later. Lex watched as he worked on Lou's bass and pedals and nodded as he set it all up just about the way Lou would. Lou stood nearer to the front of the stage, plugging her keyboard in and looking back at Derek every now and again, occasionally shifting as if trying to block Derek from view.

Lex swallowed hard as she studied the crowd for a moment, wondering if they were doing the right thing by touring. The captain hadn't come right out and said it, but she knew it could still be possible that MSI would send someone to take them out, and it would be much easier if they could be found in a group. Shaking her head, she took a quick drink from her water bottle and then a deep breath. She'd do her best to keep an eye on things, as would the rest of the team here; Victor stood in the back at the sound booth, and Casey had staked out a spot over at the side of the room selling CDs, so either of them could spot trouble as well. Squaring her shoulders, she stood tall and waited for Lou and Derek to finish onstage as Kate came over to join her and Riss in the wings.

“You ready?” Kate asked, looking at both of them in turn.

Riss nodded as Lex replied, “I'm not so rusty that I'm not going to give them a good show, that's for sure.”

Derek smiled his big, guileless grin as he came backstage after he and Lou had finished. “Break a leg, Ms. Lex, Ms. Riss, Ms. Kate.”

“I've told you a million times, it's just Kate,” she said, returning his grin nonetheless.

As a great contrast to the noisiness the crowd had shown prior to their arrival, Lex noted a sudden, almost surreal hush as she, Riss, and Kate walked out onto the stage. Lex looked over at Lou, who stood tuning his bass, only to receive the barest shrug in return. She and the other women dispersed to their instruments, and at the moment they split up, thunderous applause began to sound, some of the crowd calling out the band's name and hooting.

She fired up her synthesizer and checked it and then turned her head to see if Kate had completed tuning her guitar. It looked as if Kate had almost finished, so Lex leaned over to her microphone, interrupting the stragglers who still applauded. “Hello, Berlin!” she said in halting German. She'd been studying for at least six months now in her off-time, trying to talk with Rolf in the language whenever she remembered to in order to try to learn faster. “We're Alexander's Army and this is a song from our latest album, Water!”

The crowd began to cheer loud enough so that they almost drowned out the low beginning of the song, but when they realized that they music had begun, most quieted down. The band favored this song in particular, which Lex felt must show as she played her part on the synthesizer and listened to the rest of her friends' parts coming in, the music starting slow and increasing in intensity throughout the piece.

Desert sands blow through my mind
Intense sky blue overhead
The stars as bright as sun all day
Not a raindrop or tear to be shed
This craving has become a madness
That cries ceaselessly for relief

My body cries out
My every constant thought

They'd written the song so that the sound continued to build throughout, finally crashing over at the end like a tidal wave to drift away to silence. As the last notes died away, the lack of noise in the hall seemed to seep in to fill the air, underscoring the absence of the song before Lex glanced up at the audience, only to be met with a sudden rush of applause. She smiled as she looked at the other band members, breaking into the next song as soon as she deemed the cheering had died down enough and the rest of the band seemed ready.

The band had played everything off the new album and most everything from the rest of their albums by the time they walked offstage. The audience applauded for so long that the band went back onstage for an encore, but they refused to go back onstage again when the audience continued cheering after that. Kate had walked off with her guitar and stood packing it into its case as Casey came backstage to where all of the other women had been hiding from the enthusiastic audience.

“I'm out of CDs,” she said, a big smile on her face.

“Didn't we bring a big box of them?” Riss asked with a slight frown.

“We had over a hundred, and about fifty mp3 download cards. We sold them all,” Casey told them, still smiling.

“Was it enough?” Lex asked, worried that she already knew the answer.

“No. I had to give away a lot of our business cards, the ones with our distributor's web address on them, to the people who wanted our CD but couldn't get it. I ran out of those, too.”

“I guess we're going to have to plan to have a lot more of everything when we play out these days,” Lex muttered, feeling tired. “Don't we have something tomorrow afternoon, too?”

“Yeah,” Casey replied, “but don't forget about the interview in the morning. We've got to be there by ten.”

Lex groaned. “It's already after one. Is there anything else we need to do here, or can we get back to the hotel and get some sleep?”

“No, let's go,” Casey said, shaking her head.

The following Monday, once everyone had gotten back to work, Lex sat at her desk working on some paperwork, tired but still satisfied with what they'd accomplished over the weekend. Both of the shows had gone smoothly and seemed well received, and the interview had been fine, although she'd had to remind the interviewers to avoid work-related topics.

While in the middle of finishing her review of a report about a ring of pickpockets suspected of having greater-than-normal speed and agility, Lex raised an eyebrow as she saw an email arrive from Captain Shapiro. It didn't give any details out as to what he wanted; it just requested that she come to his office.

He looked up and smiled at her knock, then told her to come in and shut the door. Lex started to feel nervous as she did, wondering if she'd done something wrong. She sat in one of the chairs in front of his desk and opened her mouth to ask, but stopped as the captain began to speak.

“Lex, I don't know if you realize it, but we've begun to get in a number of requests for interviews. Normally we have a spokesperson that we direct all media to talk to, but a number of them have been quite insistent, wanting to speak to you to get detailed information about the string of burglaries you helped to stop, or to talk about the trial, since you're listed as one of the main complainants.”

After staring at the captain in surprise for a moment, Lex lowered her eyes to his desk, then looked back up at him, waiting for him to continue. He sighed and said, “Well, we've been directing them to the Special Forces spokesperson as usual, but they continue to demand to talk to you, so we've been given the OK that you can speak to a number of them.”

He produced a folder then, which he handed over to Lex. “These are the major TV news outlets and publications that they want you to schedule interviews with. Before you do, however, call the person on the first page here.” The captain opened the folder and pointed to a sheet with a head shot and some information. “The public relations section wants to brief you first, to give you pointers and let you know what's off limits to talk about. Once you've talked to them you can start calling the other people in the folder and setting up your interviews with them.”

As the captain paused, Lex paged through the papers in the folder, feeling her shoulders sag as she realized how many had been included. “Is this really right?” she asked, closing the folder again and looking back up at Captain Shapiro.

He sighed again, frowning, but Lex got the impression that something else had caused his annoyance, not her. “Unfortunately. I realize this assignment is probably going to take you awhile to finish, so don't worry about your normal work until you're done with this. If you can get anything else in, fine; otherwise assign it to someone else or put it off until later.”

She nodded. “All right, I understand. One more thing, though. Since this is going to be official business, I wanted to bring it up. Some of the interviewers will almost certainly want to ask questions about the band. Are you OK with me telling them that if they want to talk with me about any of that that they should schedule another interview?”

The captain looked surprised for a moment, then nodded. “That's a good point, and I think that's the best way to handle it. Anything else you wanted to ask?”

Lex thought about it for a moment before shaking her head, then rose to go and take the folder with her. She reviewed everything in detail once she got back to her desk, gazing for a few seconds at the stern expression of the dark-haired man in the picture on the first page before flipping through to study all fifteen pages that followed.

As Lex later found out, getting started wasn't as simple as going to Public Relations. When she called, they instructed her to show up a few days later, early in the morning, and didn't mention to Lex that they'd planned what amounted to a one-on-one short class on interviewing with the media. Lex kept busy taking copious notes about what she should or shouldn't say and how she should speak to members of the press. After that, the sour-faced man who'd talked to her about interviewing sent her to the legal department for another of instructions on how she should talk about a case in progress and what she would be allowed to say or comment on by law.

Scheduling and doing the media interviews took her all of December to complete, to the point where she had to schedule some in the new year because of people out on vacation. To Lex's pleasure and everyone's relief, Casey hadn't set up any shows for the band during the holiday weeks, so they celebrated by inviting everyone over to the house who they knew would have been alone for the holidays. Every morning Lex loved waking up to the sweet spices or savory scents as Casey baked and cooked, and she somehow got just about everyone else to help out at one point or another. As much fun as Lex had had over the past few years on the holidays, this one worked out to be even nicer due to having more friends around.

Lex felt happy that the small team building Art's body continued making progress on his arm as well. After the new year, Lex reflected that they should be nearing the end as she looked at the few inches of standing wires remaining on Art's arm. The fact that they'd gotten that close made Lex more eager to finish, and many evenings she found herself talking to Art as she worked in the lab for an hour or two before she got to bed. He peppered her with questions about the world that she sometimes struggled to answer, the latest being what ice cream tasted like.

“I don't know how to describe it to you in an understandable way,” Lex said after mentally wrestling with the fact that he didn't know what anything tasted like. “I'm kind of thinking that from what I know of your design that you won't be able to eat, though. Is that true?”

Something that sounded like a sigh came from Art's laptop. “Yes, that's true. I just wonder about some things, though.”

“Don't worry,” Lex said with a chuckle. “I think that once we finish your body so you can live in it, you'll have so many new things to deal with that you won't be worried about that.”

Art wasn't her only companion during the evenings, however. One evening in the middle of the first week in January, Lex woke up due to a bad dream and couldn't get back to sleep. She sighed but dressed in warm layers and headed up to the lab, hoping that tying and clipping tiny wires for a while would wear her out. To her surprise, she found Victor alone in the lab. He glanced up with a smile in her direction as she put her goggles on.

As she began work Lex said, “It's a good thing that Derek has been coming over here on the weekends. We've gotten so much more done as a result.”

She tried not to laugh as he started at her words, then shook his head. “Not you, too.”

“What do you mean?” Lex replied, trying to give him an innocent look.

“You and Kate...” Victor started, then trailed off as he shook his head again.

“I hope you know she's just excited for you.” Lex chanced another look at Victor, a feat that took some maneuvering with the goggles on, but she managed it by looking into the corners, away from the super-magnifying lens at the center.

He sighed. “I know, it's just...” Victor trailed off again, leaving Lex itching with curiosity.

“What is it?” she asked. “You know you can talk to me and you won't hear it repeated anywhere.”

Victor looked over at Lex for a moment, as if trying to size her up, then took his own goggles off. Lex followed suit, putting down her needle-nose pliers as well.

“He's just so young,” Victor said, looking at his hands on the lab bench. “Plus, what if things don't work out? I don't want to start something up only to find out that he just had some kind of crush on me for what I did that day.”

Lex nodded, remembering back to the day that Victor had prevented her from getting shot. After a moment to gather her thoughts, she began, “All right, first concerns first. How old are you, exactly?”

“Twenty six,” Victor replied, shooting her a quick glance before glaring at the lab bench with a frown.

“He's nineteen, you know,” Lex said after a moment. “Well within the age of consent, and I don't think seven years between the two of you is insurmountable.”

Victor made an indeterminate noise, looking down at his pliers that sat on the lab bench and turning them around in a circle with one finger.

“I get the impression that's not what's bothering you the most about all of this, though. It sounds like you're really worried that he's just interested because you saved him. Is that it?”

He gave her another brief glance and an almost imperceptible nod.

“Well, I could see why. You did do him a good turn, but I don't think you're right. He seems taken with you for real, from what I can see.” Lex paused for a moment then, trying to fish something out of the back of her mind about the day she'd almost been shot in the head. After a few moments, it came to her and she looked back up at Victor with a big smile.

“I know that's not any kind of proof, but consider this.” Lex waited until he'd glanced up at her again to continue. “I just thought back to that day when you saved me. I heard you call out to him clearly, even through the communicator, and then I heard him respond. I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but he said your name with excitement, like the word meant something to him. Are you sure he hasn't been interested since the first time you met?”

Smiling by the time she finished speaking, Lex watched Victor as his expression changed to one that Lex found thoughtful. After a few moments, he gave her a considering look before he slipped his goggles back on. Lex continued to smile as she put her own on and picked up her pliers.

It wasn't until March that the court called upon Lex to tell her story. She'd bought a new suit for the occasion and found herself fidgeting as she waited, nervous about the prospect of talking to them for the first time. As she waited for the court to assemble and the proceedings to start, she found her mind running back through all of the pictures she'd seen of those people who'd been killed by MSI's actions. She felt guilty for being able to escape when so many others couldn't, and for not being able to do more. Hopefully, she thought, we can stop them for good now. She tried to think of other things when the idea made her feel even more nervous.

Once she took the stand, she forgot her nervousness as she began to answer questions for the prosecutor and tell her story, trying to think about only what had happened to her while she'd been with the M Agency and what she'd seen there. In particular, the prosecutor focused on the fact that the contract she'd reviewed had contained nothing regarding giving permission for experimental gene therapy.

Lex felt better after the prosecutors had finished with their questions, which had taken up most of the first day she'd been there, but she felt a tremor of foreboding run down her spine as the lawyer for the defense approached to speak early in the morning the second day. Something about the expensive suit and the cold, dissecting look in the man's eyes chilled her.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the court, I think you've gotten one impression after hearing my colleagues in the prosecution talk, but I'm going to present evidence today that will show that the witness here is naïve at best, or at worst, committing fraud against this court and defaming the good name of MSI.”

The man reached into a folder to produce a sheaf of papers and handed them to Lex. She swallowed against her dry throat as she leafed through the document and recognized a standard informed consent notice for medical experiments, definitely nothing that had been part of the contract she'd signed.

“You've handed me a copy of an informed consent document for a medical trial, but I never received one of those when MSI recruited me or when I worked there,” she said, handing it back to the defense attorney, glad to see that her hand didn't shake.

The man's eyes narrowed and he turned to the last page, pointing at a spot where the reader would initial the document. “Ms. Mansfield,” he said, putting a stage-worthy emphasis of skepticism on her last name, “is this not your handwriting?”

She looked at the letters, seeing what looked like the initials she would have written during that time. Lex could tell that she hadn't initialed there, but figured it would be difficult for anyone else to make a determination one way or the other. “That's correct, it isn't my handwriting. As I mentioned, this wasn't part of what I read and signed for MSI, because I never would have signed on if this had been part of it.”

The lawyer frowned at her, presented the documents to the judge, and continued. “So, you're trying to say that you thought they gave you a salary almost twice what you used to get paid just for mostly sitting around and now and again playing a superhero? Surely you're not so naïve.”

Lex tried to keep her breathing even and calm and not scowl at him. “No, I thought they offered extra money as compensation for the fact that the job took over your whole life. They demanded I be on site most of the time and on call the rest. Hell, for the first six months we only got to leave the building every other weekend unless we got called out on a job.”

She bristled as she watched the lawyer give her a patronizing smirk and almost laugh at her as he continued questioning her, trying to paint her as a liar who took the money and then tried to turn around and say that she didn't know that the hugely unethical human experimentation was part of why they were being paid so much. After several hours of this, Lex felt so drained that she started daydreaming about going back to the small apartment that had been made available to the witnesses while testifying and taking a bath so long that her fingertips looked like raisins afterwards. However, her interest began to perk up again after lunch when she realized that the lawyer's questions seemed to be going in a direction she'd never anticipated.

“And, so, Ms. Mansfield, I understand that after having gone through the course of experimental medication under MSI's care that you say you found that you'd changed afterwards.”

Lex paused before answering, studying the lawyer's face and finding a mixture of reluctance and curiosity there. “Yes, that's true.”

“What did you find to be different about yourself, Ms. Mansfield?”

Continuing to look at the man's every change of expression, Lex replied, “Well, my eyes changed color, I lost all color in my hair, my digestive system didn't work right, and I could do some other things I hadn't been able to before.”

“What sorts of things, Ms. Mansfield?” The man's question came on the heels of Lex's statement, almost running over her words, and his face looked too eager. Lex felt the sharp edge of suspicion in her gut and looked at the judge. “Do I need to answer this question? I don't see what it has to do with the case.”

The judge looked at the lawyer and nodded. “Ms. Mansfield makes a good point. Please explain your thinking in this matter and how you see that it's case related.”

“Your honor,” the man said, shifting in place and glancing away, “I was merely trying to establish that perhaps the lady got some good out of the experiments, not just harm.”

Suddenly on the receiving end of a very harsh look from the judge, the lawyer shrank back. “Mr. Saman, may I remind you that we are here to determine the illegality of your client's actions, not whether some of their illegal actions may have benefited their victims in some way. Please refrain from this line of questioning because it is unrelated to the case.”

The lawyer nodded while looking at the far wall, unbuttoned one of his jacket buttons and then redid it, and cleared his throat as a preliminary to launching another set of questions.

Lex found the energy she'd felt as she began her testimony being sapped away by one endless set of queries after another. The defense lawyer's questions seemed designed to make her look by turns stupid, lying, or double-crossing. Lex felt a desperate churning in her stomach as she worried that her story wouldn't get out after all, and she couldn't help but close her eyes for a moment as she thought of all of the people still being experimented on in their labs. Around lunchtime on the second day since she'd begun talking to the MSI lawyers, they decided they'd asked her enough and the court wrapped up their business with Lex and let her go.

She still felt depressed as she packed her things, shoving them into her suitcase and vacating the apartment within fifteen minutes, then went to the train station. As she walked the remaining few meters to the station, however, Lex looked into a shop window and noticed the reflection of a man walking behind her on the sidewalk. She slowed as she recognized him as someone she'd passed in the halls of the ICC as she'd left the building. Making a quick decision, Lex came to a full stop and leaned in as if looking at some of the dishes and glassware in the window. She scrutinized the reflection she could see, and as she watched, the man paused, pulling out his cell phone and playing with it but throwing glances in her direction the whole time. Humming to herself, she kept an eye on him in the shop windows as she finished her walk to the station. She could still see him in the glass as she bought her ticket back to Brussels, and spotted him again down the way as she waited for her train.

Lex smiled as she had a thought and straightened up, pulling out her own phone and choosing a number. She waited, listening to it ring, and after two she heard the sharp click of connection. “Captain?” she asked.

“Yes, this is Captain Shapiro. Who's this?” His voice sounded distracted and Lex could hear shuffling sounds in the background, as if he'd hit the conference call button because he was still working on some paperwork.

“Captain, it's me, Lex,” she responded. “I just wanted to let you know that I'm on my way home from the ICC, and that I'm being followed.”

“Followed? Really?” he asked, and Lex smiled wider because it sounded like she now had his undivided attention.

“I'm pretty sure; I spotted him at the ICC, and I saw him again after I left the apartment. Right now, I'm waiting for my train home, and he's standing on the same platform, just a few feet away from me. Would you like me to alert the authorities here, or allow him to follow me back to Brussels?”

A moment of considering silence followed. “Bring him here, I think. I'll send a couple people to the station to pick you up. Just point him out to them.”

She nodded at the now silent phone before stowing it back in her bag. Somehow she stumbled through the business of boarding the train and finding a seat through the weariness that had fallen over her after her days at court, and she smiled at the elderly couple who took seats next to her own by the window.

Sometime later Lex startled awake, and it took her awhile to figure out her surroundings. She'd been in the middle of a dream of trying to save limitless numbers of people and making no progress at all, bogged down in quicksand. Once she had the presence of mind to do so, she smiled at the older couple who still sat next to her, and then glanced around the train car to see if her tail had moved. She felt relieved to see him still reading the newspaper as he had been earlier.

Lex smiled when she got off the train in Brussels and spotted Meg and Kate standing on the platform in uniform. She walked in their direction, one hand sketching a wave. Kate spotted her first.

“Welcome home!” her friend cried, wrapping her up in a hug that lifted her toes up off the ground.

Lex took advantage of the moment to whisper a brief description of the man following her. By the time she pulled back, she saw Kate nodding. “No worries,” Kate said. “We'll take care of it. By the way, Rolf is waiting for you at the corner outside.”

Grinning, Lex hugged Kate one more time, smiled at Meg and said hi, then turned to go. Somehow, once she'd gotten into Rolf's car and he had begun driving them back to his place, Lex felt a deep sense of relief, like maybe everything hadn't gone that badly after all.

To Lex's annoyance, the interrogation of her tail didn't turn up much information, the private detective having been hired by MSI to find out all he could about the main people pressing the lawsuit against them. He'd disappeared once he'd been told that following an officer could be hazardous for his health, and no one had seen him since.

For the couple of months following that, most of Lex's friends got called to testify. Lou, Casey, Lily, Derek, Kate, and Riss got called in turn, but Lily and Derek's testimonies took the longest, each of them having to spend around a week in the Hague. Lex discussed it with the rest of her friends afterwards, most agreeing that it had been one of the more difficult things they'd done, but Lily refused to talk about it, preferring to wait to see what would become of the suit.

Lex sighed one hot afternoon in early June, scrolling through her email and trying to keep cool since the air conditioning in the office needed service. For some reason, the story about the ICC trial hadn't slipped away in the media, so she continued to have to speak for the team in interviews every few weeks or so. Lex was reviewing a couple of interview requests when she spotted a new email from Rolf. “If you have no plans tonight, please dress up and wait for me at your house at eight. I've got something important I want to ask you over dinner.”

Forward to Chapter 48
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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Tags: abuse survivors, adventure, music, online novels, science fiction, serialized novels, superhero, suspense, transformation, women
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