Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

Chapter 49: Legends

Author's Notes/Warnings: Body construction, assessing a situation and counting allies

Hi, All! We go on a couple of journeys in this chapter, so come on along...

Many thanks to my editor-in-chief, gwoman for helping me to improve my work, as always.

Back to Chapter 48

On a hot day in mid-August, a letter arrived. Lex remembered it well, since not much else about the day had been memorable. It had been a work day, and she and Rolf had arrived from their walk home overheated. As far as his living situation, he'd decided after a few days that it made sense for him to join the rest of them, so he'd moved into the house at the end of July. She was thinking about that when she went to sort out the pile of mail that had arrived for all of them that day and found a couple pieces of forwarded mail for Rolf, including the letter.

She made piles of mail for everyone who'd received some, but she paused before putting the letter in Rolf's pile. It was written on off-white paper which felt stiff and heavy, and the handwriting appeared archaic, especially compared to the forwarding sticker. She turned it over, half expecting to see that it was sealed with wax, but it appeared they'd used the normal type of self-sealing glue instead. Finishing the sorting, she brought Rolf's pile along with her own into the kitchen. She smiled when she saw him pouring two glasses of the lemonade Casey had made the previous evening.

“You got a very fancy looking letter,” she said as she put his pile of mail on the table and then gave him a closer look, noticing that he'd gotten pale.

Rolf said nothing as he crossed to the table and put the glasses down, then grabbed up the letter. He stared at it for a long moment, then sat down before he began to open it. Lex sat opposite him and reached for her lemonade to take a sip, but mostly watched him as he read, feeling something uncomfortable fluttering in her stomach.

The letter itself didn’t look to be long, since Lex spotted no writing on the back of the page, so only a few minutes had passed when he folded it up and put it back into the envelope. Rolf's eyes seemed too serious once they met Lex's. “We've been summoned,” he said simply, which caused Lex to sit back in her chair.

“What do you mean?” she asked, knowing her confusion bled through to her tone. “I figure that letter's not from work or anything.”

He shook his head and had opened his mouth to speak again when Casey came into the kitchen. “Hi, you two,” she said, taking the pitcher out of the refrigerator and pouring herself a glass. “What did they have you working on today?”

They chatted with Casey for a few minutes until Lex mentioned that she and Lou both had some mail. Lex looked over at Rolf as Casey left the room, and he raised an eyebrow. “Let's go upstairs and I'll explain,” he said, looking back over at the open kitchen door. Nodding, Lex followed him out of the room.

He sighed once they both sat perched on the edge of the bed, and as Lex glanced at him, she thought he seemed both reluctant and eager to speak. “Actually,” he continued after several silent moments, “I'm the one who's been summoned. They don't have any power to summon you, of course, but they've demanded that you come along with me anyway.”

“Who?” Lex asked, leaning towards him and feeling like she'd missed the first few film reels and had now walked in on the middle of the story.

Rolf sighed. “Sorry, I should have explained. My family sent that letter. They want us to come out to the house late this fall so that they can...well, check you out, I guess.”

Lex straightened up, feeling relieved. “Well, that's understandable.”

“I forgot to mention that I let them know we're getting married. I didn't plan for you to have to meet them, and I was hoping that they'd just ignore it altogether, but...” He trailed off then, looking at the letter in his hand, and Lex felt worried as she looked at his furrowed brow and frown.

“I guess they're just being normal parents,” she said, trying to lighten his mood. “I mean, isn't that what parents should do if they heard their child wanted to get married?”

He took her hand then, smiling in a way that also seemed sad. “Unfortunately, that's not what this is about.”

Tilting her head as she continued to study him, Lex asked, “What is it about?”

Rolf sighed then and fell back to the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Lex followed him, turning on her side and leaning on her elbow so that she could look into his face as he spoke. “Lex, I want to thank you. I know for a fact that not many other women would put up with my silence on my family. I've actually had women I dated break up with me for that reason in particular.”

Stifling the urge to say, “Their loss!” Lex instead replied, “I know how bad family life can be, and I figured you'd eventually get around to telling me what you wanted to. Even if you never told me, it wouldn't change the fact that I want to be with you.”

He smiled again as he met her eyes, and Lex felt glad to see no sadness in his face then. “Thank you for your faith in me. However, there's more to it than that. There's a lot I don't like to talk about that has to do with my family, but before I left home, they also made me take an oath not to speak of some of the things related to them to anyone who's not one of us.”

Lex focused on him even more then, wondering what else had been going on with the Kaiser family. “They've requested that we come for a week, the one where October ends and November begins. I have no problem going out there on my own, and rest assured that there is nothing they could do to prevent us from getting married if you still want to be with me.”

She felt more confused then than she had at first. “Of course there's nothing they can do,” Lex said, knowing the look on her face must reflect her puzzlement. “We're adults, after all. And there's no question about my coming with you, Rolf, especially after hearing even what little I have about them.”

He shifted to his side to face her then, and took up her hand again and looked into her eyes with a grave expression. “Lex, just listen to me carefully for a minute, please. As I mentioned, this isn't any ordinary visit. I can't tell you what it's all about, but I want you to take some time to be sure you want to go. We've got over two months, so please think about it for a while. If you decide not to go, I won’t blame you or be upset in the least, and with any luck you'll never have to hear anything about my family again. If you do decide to go, since you'll be involved then, on the trip up to my family's house I'll tell you everything you want to know, anything you ask.”

“Well, of course I'll be going then,” Lex said, but stopped speaking as Rolf shook his head.

“Please, think about it for a while. Like I mentioned, I can't explain to you why we've been called there, but I will tell you this. If you do decide to go, bring anything that you might take with you if you'd been called out on a dangerous mission. My family might make it seem on the outside that we're welcome and all is well initially, but be ready for anything at any time.” He stopped then but held her hand in a strong grip and looked intently into her eyes as if willing her to understand something he couldn't explain out loud.

Lex nodded then, her mind already starting to try to work out what she'd be walking into when she went with Rolf to see his family. There's no way I'd stay away, now, she thought, but said out loud, “OK, Rolf, I'll give it some thought.”

He hugged her close then, and Lex closed her eyes as she rested her forehead against his shoulder, her mind full of thoughts about what the trip to Rolf's family home would hold for the two of them.

To Lex's surprise, the weeks after their discussion moved fast. Work remained busy as she continued following the same routines as everyone else—being sent out on calls or monitoring the communications room—but it seemed that her task to communicate with the media hadn't been a temporary one. Every few weeks she found herself doing a phone or in-person interview with various reporters. The bank robbers hadn't yet been brought to trial, although she assumed that the media coverage of that event might keep her busy at some point in the future, and the media remained interested in the ongoing ICC trial.

She also became embroiled in Lily's campaign to lobby for Derek to come to live at their house instead of at the special forces building. The Special forces had gotten his visa extended another six months because it had been agreed that he might need to testify at the ICC trial again, but Lex found that his actual status had remained sort of a mystery. He hadn't been declared a prisoner, but he had been identified as a main witness and therefore someone who might be in need of extra protection. Because of that, the captain preferred to keep him on the premises, but he did seem to be turning a blind eye to long weekends at the house, Lex knew, probably because anyone could notice how down Derek seemed if he had to spend a weekend locked up in the Special forces building with a bunch of people he didn't know.

She and Lily had come to ask the captain questions about one of the cases they'd been working on together, but Lily had taken a moment afterwards to talk about her concern for Derek when the captain cut her short with a wave of his hand.

“Lily, I appreciate your persistence, but my answer is still no. I think he's in no danger spending weekends at your house, but now is not the time to discuss this. Ask me again a few months down the road, and we'll talk about it then.”

Lex knew what drove the disappointed look in Lily's face; the captain's voice had his “this is my final decision,” tone, so it wouldn't do any good to work at the question any longer. As if she had a different idea, though, Lily replied, “All right, sir, I understand. There is one thing that I'd like to say, though.”

“Go ahead,” Captain Shapiro said in an even voice, but Lex read in his body language that he wanted to go back to whatever work they'd interrupted earlier.

“Well, we've been getting behind in finishing paperwork, mostly because Lex is the fastest typist and she's been going out on all these interviews as well as working on this case with me. So, I was thinking, why not give Derek something to do since he's already here?”

Lex watched as Lily looked over at the captain. “If we could give him something to do, maybe a few days a week, I'm sure he'd feel a lot better about being here, and we could really use the help. Maybe we could hire him on as an intern or something?”

Lex tried not to grin at Lily's enthusiasm, but when she thought about it, it did sound like a good idea. When she glanced over at the captain, she saw doubt in his expression. “I don't know if we have money in the budget for it–”

Lily waved her hand, causing the captain to stop. “There's no need to give an answer now, just let me know what you think once you've had time to look into it.”

Captain Shapiro fixed her with a look for a moment before he shook his head. “You women are going to be the death of me,” he muttered, just loud enough for Lex to hear. “All right, I'll give it some thought. Now get out of my office!”

Lily grinned at Lex in the downstairs hallway as their paths split, and from the expression on the doctor's face Lex could tell that she thought she'd already won. Sure enough, Lex heard a few weeks later Derek had been hired on as an intern at the special forces building to help with paperwork a few times a week. She couldn't help but grin.

As it turned out, Lex found it even more helpful to have Derek at the lab at home as well, since he seemed to be able to ignore some of the bad humor Victor displayed while experimenting to create the manufacturing procedure to make muscles and skin for Art.

Once they'd completed the initial arm work and had run a number of tests, Victor and Riss had declared the test arm a success. After that, Victor had worked for a few weeks to develop a machine to create Art's muscles and skin. He'd showed his initial shot at it to Lex and Derek some weeks prior, the machine looking like a shallow tank about three feet long connected to several smaller tanks by tubes and wires.

“The different types of plastics we need go in these,” he'd told them, gesturing towards the smaller tanks. “If you look at the lids, they're marked with the recycling number of the plastic that needs to go inside. This one over here,” he'd said, pointing at a tank apart from the others, “is the one that holds the wire. As long as the process is working well, we should be able to enter the type of limb we need and its specs, and then the machine should do its thing and we'll have a new arm or leg.”

The only problem with that, Lex considered as she now watched Victor stare at the machine for a long moment, then mutter a curse under his breath and spin to leave the room, is that the damned thing has to be set just so.

She approached the machine at the same time Derek did, craning her neck to look at it as if it might come to life again by itself. Lex had not felt too sleepy that Friday night, so she'd left Rolf to sleep and come upstairs to see the progress on the body construction project, only to be confronted by Victor storming out of the lab, annoyed with another failure.

“Don't worry, Ms. Lex,” Derek said a few minutes later as he reached to pull the defective arm muscles out of the long tank. “I think all really smart men are like that. Do you remember me telling you about Dr. Lawler, the scientist I grew up with?”

Lex nodded, remembering the man who'd found Derek and his age mates and brought them to his lab to raise them. “Well,” Derek continued, “we'd take turns being his lab assistant, and I remember that sometimes he'd get frustrated like Victor just did. He'd take some time then, maybe go for a walk or something, and then it would come to him. Don't worry, Ms. Lex—he'll get it.”

She moved to stand beside Derek to try to salvage what they could of the arm: the wires could be reused, and some of the muscles as well. Shaking off the familiar feeling of waiting for the hammer to fall, Lex glanced at Derek out of the corner of her eye as she asked, “So, it sounds like you're getting to know him pretty well. How are things going between the two of you?”

Holding back a grin as she watched Derek blush bright red, Lex waited for him to speak. “Well, Ms. Lex,” he said after a few moments of silence, looking away in embarrassment, “I've been told a gentleman never kisses and tells.”

“Oh, so you've kissed him?” she couldn't help but ask, then laughed at the shocked stare he gave her. “Relax, I saw the two of you one night when I came up to help. You looked very happy.”

A goofy grin crossed his face, one that Lex could feel herself responding to in kind. “Yes. Victor really is someone special. I knew it the minute I met him.”

“So, he's treating you well, then?” she asked, giving him another glance as they sorted through the mess of plastic and wires.

“Yes, Ms. Lex, you don't have to worry about that,” Derek replied, his face going red again.

Lex couldn't help but tease him a little more. “That's good. Just let me know if he isn't, now,” she said, glancing at Derek with a mischievous grin.

He laughed and shook his head as the two of them continued deconstructing the defective arm. They both remained silent, although smiling, as Victor rejoined them several minutes later, going straight for the control unit for the machine he'd created and beginning to tinker with it.

Towards the end of October, Lex still worked with the lab group on and off to get the plastic and wire mixtures exactly right, but she' told Rolf her decision, that she'd be coming with him to his parent's house. He didn’t seem surprised to hear her response; he just sighed with a worried expression as he said he'd make the arrangements.

Rolf and Lex arrived in the main train station at Brussels on a Friday after work, Rolf carrying a medium-sized bag and Lex following with two large duffel bags. He'd raised an eyebrow as he'd seen her packing them up the night before, but she'd returned his look and had said, “Hey, you told me I should come prepared.” Rolf had nodded then, a small smile on his face, and had said nothing more.

They boarded the train and found the way to their seats. “The easiest way to get there, with all the possible connections available, was to go to Cologne, stay there overnight, and then take a morning train out to Ingolstadt, in Bavaria. I've rented a car to drive from there.”

Lex nodded, surprised that the trip would be so complicated, but said nothing as Rolf leaned in to whisper in her ear. “We can talk about whatever you want to ask when we get to Cologne,” he told her. She nodded again and reached out to hold his hand, looking out the window and willing the train to get going so they could arrive and then she could find out the answers to everything she'd been wondering about for a while.

The train ride took about two hours, and darkness had fallen by the time they reached Cologne. She spotted the cathedral as they left the train station, and since she'd never been to the town before, she stood in front of the building for a while to look it over. The moon shone three-quarters full in its waxing phase, so she could see the outline of the massive building against the night sky. Even though she'd never been religious, she liked the sight of the cathedral itself, and she smiled over at Rolf before they continued walking on.

When they'd reached the hotel Rolf had chosen and had checked in, Lex put her bags in the closet, threw her shoes off, and sat on the bed, waiting for Rolf to sit next to her. She glanced out the almost floor-to-ceiling window as Rolf called to order food, taking in the many stone facades she saw in the buildings across the street, their windows as expansive as the hotel’s own. Tuning back in to Rolf's voice, she noted he sounded surprised to find that room service seemed happy to make something that Lex could eat; she still had to eat vegan food since there was a lot her stomach could no longer handle. Once he hung up, he continued sitting at the little table in the room, looking abstractedly at one wall.

Finally, he turned to face Lex, his expression serious. “I'll tell you everything I can, and I'll probably even manage to give you some hints about things that I've been forbidden to talk about directly. What would you like to know?”

Lex considered his question for a moment, then asked, “Why don't you just tell me how this all started, from the beginning, as you know it?”

He smiled then, and it seemed genuine this time, although he cleared his throat before he began and had trouble starting. When he did speak, his voice sounded disconnected from him somehow, as if he talked about someone else. “Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a boy who lived in the deep woods with his grandmother. This life was all he knew from a very early age. Now, his grandmother was a very powerful shaman from a long, proud line of shamans like herself. This power had been established in the family for so long that it had become something that could be passed down from generation to generation, and indeed her children and grandchildren had some of this power as well.”

Rolf paused then and his eyes seemed to flash in the cozy half-light of the hotel room, and a thrill rose in Lex as she realized what power he meant. All of his family can change like he can, she suddenly knew, a chill running down her spine. A family of wolves.

He gave her a toothy smile as he saw the realization appear on her face. “The young boy spent his childhood learning from his grandmother, running and hunting in the woods and learning what herbs to pick for healing others. It wasn't until he got a little older and his grandmother died that he learned he had more family members. He not only had to mourn her death, but also what he found out about his family once he encountered them.”

Lex waited for Rolf to say more, but he seemed to have finished for the moment, so she asked in a low tone, “Why did they send you away?”

He shrugged after a while. “I think it had something to do with how I look when I'm not in this form.”

She looked at him in confusion and he shrugged, continuing after another pause. “I read a while back that they did a study on wolves and found the ones with black coloration seemed likely to have dog blood in them. Not that they would have known that then, though. I’m guessing it’s just because I looked different. They don’t seem to appreciate that sort of thing.”

Rolf stopped speaking then, but the expression on his face and the fact that he'd bowed his head seemed to say it all. Lex shook her head, her anger at his parents starting to rise. “Why don't you come sit here with me?” she asked, holding out her hand.

Once they were both sitting on the bed, she asked, “So, what exactly did they make you promise, aside from not sharing family politics with uninvolved people?”

“Not to tell what makes us different from other people, and to report when they summon me,” he replied, then hesitated. “There's a last thing, too, but I'm actually not able to tell you anything about it, because it involves my intended.”

Lex thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. “All right, I'll just have to assume that I've got some unpleasant things headed my way on this trip. And don't worry,” she said, “I'm as prepared as I can be. What I'm wondering now is, what do you have planned?”

He raised his head in surprise and looked over at Lex. “I'm going to support you as much as I can. There may be some times when I'm not able to be right by your side, however, and for that I'm sorry. Please know that I'm always with you even if I'm not there in person, and I'm always on your side,” Rolf said, turning towards Lex and holding her hand in a crushing grip.

Her heart rate sped up as she smiled and nodded. After a moment, he continued. “I'm going to let my parents know that we're getting married. They are the kind of people who think they should be able to tell everyone what to do, especially since a number of people in the family let them do that, but I'm going to make it clear that there's nothing they can do to stop us. They probably won't take that well. Other than that, several other relatives will be visiting at various points during the week, some of whom are friendlier than others. We can stay the whole time if you want, but if things get too objectionable, we can leave at any time. I promised to answer when they call, but I never said anything about how long I'd stay.”

“You know we're free to leave anytime if you want to go, too, right?” Lex asked, looking over at Rolf. He ducked his head and didn't reply. She smiled and moved his hand in hers, asking, “So, tell me more about these other relatives.”

He looked over at her before he said, “I have several aunts and uncles that you'll probably meet while we're there. Some of them are great and some of them are complete jerks who are best avoided.”

Lex nodded again, thinking of how alone Rolf must have felt to meet the rest of his family as a child and how she could best help the both of them now. “Is there anyone in the family that you consider an ally? Not just in your immediate family, but anyone who'll be there that might help us out if things get bad.”

Rolf tilted his head, thinking. “My younger brother, Theo, has always seemed to look up to me. I think you'll like him; he's been beaten down over the years by how things are in the family, but he still seems to have hope. His wife, Mina, is also another candidate. There are other families across Europe like ours—not many, but there are a few we know. She comes from one of them, and apparently her family is much less dictatorially run than ours, so she isn't happy at all about what goes on, and I think she'd like to change things if she could. It's possible we could look for some help from my mother, Giselle, but only if it's something she could do anonymously. I don't think she'd ever do anything to publicly stand against my father. I don't know if anything happened to cause it, but she seems afraid of him.”

Rolf looked at nothing for a moment, and Lex squeezed his hand once, letting him know she was still with him. He gave her a small smile before he continued. “As far as the extended family, there are two possible sources of help I can think of. First, my Uncle Pete, the youngest of my father's brothers. I remember him from the first time I came to live with the family, and from that day he did his best to take up for me. Since he's the youngest, he doesn't have much pull within the family, however, and his other siblings seem to resent him.”

“Why's that?” Lex asked.

Sighing, Rolf replied, “They all seem to be jealous because they say my grandmother favored him. I don't know if that was the case, but out of the four siblings, he is the most like my grandmother, which may be why they really don’t like him.”

After a quick look at Lex, Rolf continued. “The other person is my Aunt Lucy, who's married to my father's other brother, Claus. I didn't meet her until later, in my teens, during the holidays at my parents' house. I could hardly believe she'd been allowed in there until I realized Uncle Claus had gotten married while I'd been away in school.”

He shook his head with a smile as he remembered. “I went downstairs one morning to see her there, small and blonde among a forest of tall brunettes, and refusing to take shit from anyone, including my father. She actually managed to accomplish something my Uncle Pete hadn't been able to—she got my father to agree to let me spend most of the holidays at her house.”

Lex smiled to see Rolf's smile. “It sounds like at least we can count on having a few friends,” she said with a nod. “Now, tell me about the people we'll have to watch out for.”

She could feel her own expression getting more serious as she watched the smile disappear from Rolf's face. “At the top of the list is my father, Richard. You'll recognize him the moment you see him, because he'll be the biggest guy there. He's also strong, fairly smart, and tries to rule everyone in the family like a king. Be careful of him. I don't know that he'd attack you outright, but he is a dangerous man and he has attacked me before, mostly with words, but once in a while, physically. If he threatens you in any way, let me know immediately and we'll be leaving.”

Rolf gazed into her eyes as he finished, looking deadly serious. Lex bit her lip, wanting to say that she'd stand up to his father and she wasn't afraid, but she could see that Rolf felt afraid for her, so she ended up just nodding. He looked relieved and continued. “Next on the list would have to be my older brother Karl and his wife Sandra. Karl's not as big or tall as my father, but he's not far behind. The thing that sticks out the most in my mind about Karl is that he's a bully and seems to get off on beating up things that he considers weaker than him. With that in mind, I think it's likely he may attack you in some way, definitely verbally, but possibly physically. If he does, you can count on him to make a frontal attack, though, so you'll be able to see him coming. I doubt he's as deadly as my father, but don't underestimate him in any case.”

He paused for a moment at the knock at the door, and they both arranged the food that had arrived at the little table in their room. After they'd begun to eat, Rolf spoke again. “Sandra, my brother's wife, is different. She'll be sure to look down on you in some way when we arrive, but don't take it personally—she looks down on everyone. She came from one of the more minor families, but she had done work as a model, so my brother fancied her and they married. In my opinion, her looks couldn't possibly compensate for her awful personality, but my brother doesn't seem to notice. I don't know if she'd consider it beneath her, but I'd say it's possible she might physically attack you. If she does, I'd guess she'll try to backbite you, so watch for that. She’ll definitely take out her bad personality on you with her words, however.”

“Is that everyone?” Lex asked before taking her next bite of food.

Rolf wiped his mouth with a napkin and shook his head in the negative. “Unfortunately not. The other one who might really cause the both of us some trouble is my Aunt Brigitte. She's my father's older sister,” he said, looking over at Lex.

“So, she's in charge?” Lex guessed, and watched Rolf shake his head.

“Actually, I think that's the source of the problems we might encounter with her. In true European tradition, it's the oldest boy who inherits everything in this family. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to go. My grandmother didn't really hold with that and she set everyone up with something, but my father did inherit the main house and a lot of the property and fortune to go along with it. Although Aunt Brigitte did well with her inheritance and the wing of the house she claimed, it seems like she was never satisfied because she felt she deserved everything.”

He sighed as he looked at Lex for a moment, then went on. “She isn't a direct enemy like my father and older brother, but due to her situation she seems to hate everything that has anything to do with my father, and by extension me. She's never come out and physically attacked me or anything, probably because she thinks it would be beneath her dignity to do so, but I think she is going to be against the two of us simply because it's against tradition.”

Lex frowned as she listened. “What tradition?” she asked as Rolf paused.

“It's tradition for the people in the Kaiser family to only marry people who have the same abilities we do. It makes it kind of difficult, especially since more boys usually seem to be born in families with this ability.” He shrugged and added, “Oddly, that's often the case for actual wolves, as well, so maybe some of their traits have rubbed off on us over time.”

They ate for a moment in silence, and then Rolf said, “That's right, I've forgotten a couple. First, my Uncle Fred, who's married to Brigitte. He doesn't seem especially bad, but he does seem uncertain of his place in the family, so he'll follow Brigitte's lead first and then Richard's. He doesn't have any particular problem with me and I don't think he'd attack you on his own with no provocation.”

Lex simply waited as Rolf ate another bite, and listened carefully when he continued. “I've saved Claus, Lucy's husband, for last. Unlike Fred, he's quite sure of his place in the family, and it's pretty much at the bottom of the heap. I think Aunt Brigitte was hard on my father, and in turn I think he took it all out on Claus. Since my father and Uncle Claus are close in age, I think he got in the habit of beating on him, so much so that when Uncle Pete arrived maybe five years after Uncle Claus, he got ignored in comparison. Not that Uncle Pete didn't have to put up with his fair share of attacks, but it seems Claus got the worst of it. He's fine if you talk to him on his own, but around my father he's sort of a wreck. He would never attack us on his own, especially because he knows how Aunt Lucy feels, but if my father led a mob attack on us, he might go along with it.”

Rolf stopped speaking again, and Lex waited to see if he had any more to say, but it seemed like he was done. “Well,” she mused as they finished eating, “I guess that's about six, maybe seven we can count on in a pinch, and about six on their side. I think we can take them.”

She looked over at Rolf then with a curious, knowing look. “I'm guessing, from the way you introduced everyone, that we might need to count on that as a possibility?”

He gave her a raised eyebrow, but just smiled in reply. I can't talk about it, Lex could almost hear in his look, and she gave him a smile full of her own secrets as she looked back at him.

Later that night, long after they’d finished dinner and gotten ready for bed, Lex turned with care, trying not to wake Rolf in case he'd had more luck in getting to sleep. As she settled onto her back on the bed, however, she caught a reflection of the dim light coming through the nearby window blinds as she looked Rolf in the eye. Smiling as she moved closer to him and their bodies touched, Lex felt a pleasant thrill run up her spine as Rolf slipped an arm around her waist.

“No matter what happens, Lex,” he murmured into her ear, his lips a breath away, “I won’t let any of them hurt you. I’ll protect you until the end.”

She felt another shiver run up her spine as he tightened his grip on her, but she also felt her stomach drop as she considered what they might be up against. “I won’t let them hurt you, either,” she replied, turning her head so she could continue to meet Rolf’s eyes. They lay so close together that she almost didn't see the haunted look before he came in for a kiss. “They’ve hurt you enough. I don’t care if they are your relatives, I won’t let them do it again.”

He gave her another look that she couldn’t quite decipher, and then she couldn't help but kiss him. The intensity she gave to it paled next to his. She couldn’t contain the moan that half stuck in her throat as the kiss deepened, and then she raced Rolf in trying to fumble out of her sleepwear.

Lex remembered looking at the clock later as she sleepily searched for the t-shirt she’d been wearing, realizing that it had gotten late but thinking as she settled in next to Rolf that the two of them shouldn’t have any trouble getting to sleep now.

Forward to Chapter 50
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