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Chapter 6: Examinations
Storm
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: Warnings for this chapter - Medical examinations, recounting of child abuse injuries, angst

Much love as always to my fabulous editor gwoman for her work on this chapter!


Back to Chapter 5

Lex was smiling as she scampered down two flights of stairs and through the door. What she saw then brought her up short, however. Lex could only stare at the biggest collection of weight machines and free weights she’d ever seen. The gym had been arranged in the large, rectangular open space in front of her and appeared to take up most of the floor. Finally, she started walking down one of the aisles, looking at the machines carefully, many of which she had never seen in any gym she’d belonged to.

“Wow,” slipped out of her lips, involuntarily.

The rhythmic clicks of a machine in operation stopped suddenly. “Hey, you’re finished,” Lex heard Casey’s voice from somewhere nearby.

Lex turned to her right and spotted Casey standing up from one of the weight machines. She walked over to the blonde, grinning. “What a great gym! I don’t recognize half of the machines here, though.”

“I didn’t either, when I first got here,” Casey replied with a laugh. “Do you want a little orientation?”

“Yes, please.” Lex tried hard to stand still and not bounce with excitement.

“OK. The machines to the left of where you came in are the core workout machines, the ones to the right are for arms. Behind the arm machines, along the back wall, are the leg machines, and behind the core machines are all of the free weights. They told me there are manuals for all of the machines on the intranet, but I’ve never looked at them since they all have instructions posted on them like regular machines do. Let me know if you have questions about any of them when you start working out here and I’ll be glad to show you what I know.”

“Cool. I’m looking forward to using them. They don’t look a lot like machines I’m used to using, though. What do they use for resistance?”

Casey nodded. “These are kind of special, so that even I can get a challenge out of them. You have to dial up the weight you want to use here,” she said, pointing at a knob on one area of the machine, “and wait until it beeps to let you know it’s ready. They use some kind of weird goop to bring it up to the weight you want, and pump it in and out of the lifting chamber.”

Lex responded with a thoughtful noise, studying the nearest machine’s mechanisms more closely, running her hand along the cool metal.

“All right, let’s get you to medical. They’re probably already pissed because they figured you’d have finished the paperwork by lunchtime,” said Casey with a grin.

Lex frowned with worry. “Am I in trouble?”

Casey’s smile broadened. “No. If anyone is it’s me, as usual. Come on, I’ll show you up there.”

Lex followed Casey back up the stairs to the floor above the weight room. When they went through the fire door, Lex could see a long hallway with doors on either side. The walls to the first set of interior rooms were Plexiglas, and Lex could see what looked like medical machinery inside, along with chemistry lab equipment. When she breathed in a moment later, Lex could smell a faint chemical scent. Her eyebrows furrowing, Lex followed Casey to the third door on the right.

The larger woman knocked and a muffled voice on the other side of the door answered her. As she opened the door, Lex could see beyond Casey into a fairly normal-looking examination room with a door on the far side that opened into another room with medical equipment in it. There was a young man in the exam room with a lab coat on, writing in a notebook. He had metal-framed glasses, short dark hair, and a very serious look in his eye as he beckoned Lex inside.

“Thank you for bringing her here,” the man said to Casey. The statement had a distinct tone of dismissal to it.

Casey didn’t look at him. “So, I’ll see you at dinner, Lex?”

“Yes,” Lex replied with a nod. “What time do you usually eat?”

Shrugging, Casey answered, “Probably around six or so.”

“Do you need any help with anything beforehand?”

“No. I figure you’ll probably need some time to shower and change before then, anyway. You can help me with the cleanup.”

“OK, I will, thanks!” Lex replied, and then turned to the man in the room as Casey turned to leave. “So what’s the plan?”

He looked at her over the top of his glasses and said, “We’ll start with a standard medical exam. Please take all of your clothes off and put on the gown there.”

The item he’d pointed at sat folded on the examination table. Lex watched him walk towards the next room through a door made mostly of frosted glass.

“Hey,” Lex called out before he was completely gone, a little annoyance sneaking into her voice, “if you’re going to ask me to strip, the least you could do is tell me your name.”

“Dr. Rogers,” he replied with a raised eyebrow, then went through the door, closing it after him.

Lex shrugged and undressed, folded her clothes, and put them on a nearby chair. When she’d finished, she put the thin cotton gown on and sat on the big sheet of paper draped over the exam table. She sighed and shifted positions, the paper making crinkling noises under her butt, and thought about how much she hated going to the doctor’s. Finally, she called out in a slightly louder than normal voice, “OK, I’m ready.”

Dr. Rogers came back through the door and started the exam by unwrapping her bandaged hand and examining it, grunting, then re-wrapping it in the same bandage. The rest of the tests involved breathing deeply and being listened to with a stethoscope; being hit with the rubber hammer for reflex measurements; having her eyes and ears looked into with strange instruments; and having her blood pressure, pulse, height, and weight all taken. After that, the doctor began asking questions from an interminably long list.

“Ms. McKilliam, do you have, or is there any family history of—”

“Doctor, please call me Lex.” She looked at him sternly for a moment so he would know she meant it, but he just glanced obliquely at her for a moment before continuing.

“Do you have, or is there any family history of cancer?”

“No.”

On and on, Dr. Rogers recited a mind-numbingly long string of ailments, some of which Lex hadn’t even heard of before. They both seemed bored, since Lex mostly answered no and the doctor wrote it down, until they got to migraine.

“Yes,” she finally replied.

“Family history, or is this something just you have?”

Lex hesitated. “There may be a family history of it on my mother’s side, but it is definitely something I have.” She’s such a liar, I can’t be sure if she has it or not, Lex found herself thinking.

“How long have you had them?”

She shrugged. “Well, I had lots of bad headaches when I was a kid. They got worse as I got into my mid- to late teens, and eventually I was diagnosed with migraines.”

“How often do you get these headaches?”

“It depends on my stress levels, I think. Sometimes I have one or two a week, but other times it’s more like once a month, or every couple of months.”

Dr. Rogers wrote a number of notes, then continued distractedly, “Ms. McKilliam—”

“Please, Dr. Rogers,” she interrupted without really meaning to, her voice tense, “call me Lex. I don’t feel comfortable with all of this formality.” And, she mentally noted, I don’t like to be called by that name.

He sighed, sounding slightly annoyed. “Lex, what do you use for your migraines?”

She went through the current medications she used, both of which were available over the counter. She’d begun using a new one recently when the other she’d used for a long time became ineffective. Dr. Rogers asked her many more questions about medications that she may have tried in the past, and asked why she only used over-the-counter drugs.

“I haven’t found a prescription medication that works, or that doesn’t make me feel worse,” Lex responded.

“Did anything seem to initially set off your migraines?” Dr. Rogers asked.

Lex felt her shoulders tense as she considered the best way to respond. “I had a lot of head trauma when I was younger,” she finally replied.

He made a noise of consideration in response as he wrote more notes, then the seemingly endless questionnaire continued. Lex started to examine the ceiling tiles in detail, noting which ones seemed damaged and which had different patterns than the others. She sighed, but tried to do so quietly. Finally, her attention snapped back to the present due to what seemed to be an unscripted question.

“How did you get those scars?”

Lex felt like her muscles had started to hum, and she suddenly felt wrinkled paper under her palms as her hands dug into the exam table. She took a deep breath to steady herself. Lex thought about asking which scars, but realized that the majority of the visible ones only had one source that she could recall. “I was beaten a lot as a child.” As she spoke in a matter of fact tone, her voice clear and emotionless, she exhaled the breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding.

“How often?”

“Most days that I can remember, until I left home at age 16.” She talked about it without feeling it, not wanting to re-experience those days in front of someone who simply asked questions in order to fill in blanks on a sheet of paper.

He looked straight at her then for a moment, his expression searching and a little wary. She met his gaze, her own stonily serious, until his eyes dropped back to his notebook.

“What sort of injuries did you sustain?” he asked.

“Well, this arm got broken,” said Lex, pointing to her right forearm scar. “It was a compound fracture that I got when I was about four or five, trying to block my dad’s attack. He threw my head at a concrete floor when I was about three and knocked my baby teeth back into my head, giving me this one,” she continued, pointing to the bite scar under her lower lip. “He beat me for months with a bamboo sword that eventually splintered and gave me the scars on my back and some on my upper arms and thighs. I also got a lot of head injuries, bruises, and things like that during that time. I’m pretty sure I got several broken bones in my feet, and some cracked ribs as well.”

“Did you receive any medical attention for your injuries?”

“Yes, for the broken arm.”

He paused what he’d been writing in his notebook, his pen hanging in the air as he looked at Lex again. “Is that all?”

“Yes. My father was not a big believer in doctors.”

Dr. Rogers turned his eyes back to his notebook, silent for a moment.

“Really, though,” continued Lex, almost to herself, “I think he just didn’t want to get caught.” She clamped her mouth shut after saying that, since it had slipped out before she’d realized it. Not in front of him, it’s none of his business.

After a few more moments of silence, Dr. Rogers seemed to come back to himself. “Well, Lex, let’s get you hooked up to the treadmill. I’d like to test your heart and your fitness level. Please put your workout clothes back on, but leave your shirt off, since I’ll need to attach some electrodes to your chest. Feel free to put the gown on over your sports bra if you feel more comfortable that way. Please come through this door when you’re ready.”

He disappeared through the frosted glass door he’d been waiting behind before. Lex slowly dressed in her workout gear again, running on automatic.

She ran for a while once the doctor had attached the leads, hooked up by wires to various machines. The feelings she’d tried to leave behind in childhood invaded again, crowding close and taking up all the room in her head and chest. She sighed, wondering if she’d ever be able to run fast enough to get away from her father. Lex had been submerged so deeply into her thoughts that she stumbled a little before she adjusted her pace, caught unaware when the treadmill began to slow.

“Sorry about that,” Dr. Rogers said from the opposite side of the room, his voice quieter than it had been, causing Lex to quickly glance at him and then away. “You must not have heard me when I warned you that we were going to stop now.”

Lex got off the belt as it halted, trying not to tie up the lines that were attached to her chest and attempting to ignore his comment. “Is it all right if I take these off now?”

“Sure, just lift one end and peel them, and they should come up all right. You’ll probably want to shower afterwards, though, since you’ll have some adhesive left on your skin.”

“Thanks,” she replied, peeling one of the contact points away as advised. He’d been right; enough stickiness remained on her skin to adhere to her t-shirt. She made a little face.

The doctor cleared his throat, and Lex looked over at him as she finished peeling the last of the contacts away.

“Lex, are you all right? You seemed to be so mentally distant that you didn’t even hear me. I called to you several times.”

Lex dropped her eyes, shaking her head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it seem as if I were ignoring you. I just don’t like talking about my childhood is all.” Her throat felt thick now and she swallowed painfully.

“You know, we have some excellent psychiatrists here on staff. I could arrange visits for you, if you like.”

Lex shook her head again, eyes still on the floor. “No, don’t worry about it, I’m fine. I think I’m just tired; so much has happened today.”

She could hear him sigh, but sort of kindly, not impatiently. This confused her and she looked up, but she only saw him writing in his notebook again.

“OK,” he finally responded, “but if you change your mind, please just call me here and let me know. I’ll be glad to arrange it for you.”

He handed her a business card with his name, practice information, and office and cell numbers.

“Thanks,” said Lex, slipping it into the pocket of her sweatpants. Then after a pause she asked, “Is there more we’re going to do today?”

Dr. Rogers shook his head. “No, that’s all, Lex. Thanks. Don’t forget to stretch before you have your shower; you were running at good speed for a while.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that.” Lex left then, not running but not quite walking, either. She hurried back to the level below, thinking that she’d remembered seeing an area with mats in the weight gym. When she entered, she hesitated for a moment, looking around, but continued in once she saw no one else there. Lex looked forward to seeing Casey at dinner, but her thoughts were still racing along with her heart, and she wanted a little time to calm herself down before seeing the other woman.

She went through her stretching routine mechanically, not feeling any relief or pleasure like she usually did. Lex’s mouth felt dry and a big bubble of something still seemed to be lodged in her chest, pushing up against her throat, leaving it feeling parched and making it almost impossible to swallow. Sometimes she wished she could cry, but she couldn’t ever remember being able to, from the time she was a little girl. No matter how sad she had become about things that had happened, tears had refused to come to her. She cleared her throat and swallowed painfully again as she finished her stretching routine and headed upstairs.

Lex carefully avoided the kitchen as she went, quietly crossing over to the stairs to her room. She thought she could hear Casey preparing dinner as she did, but she still didn’t feel quite ready to talk yet.

As she neared her room Lex spotted her laundry bag, but it had been moved from the spot where she’d put it down. When she looked inside, she saw her freshly cleaned linens neatly folded. Something about that made her smile despite the ache in her chest and Lex brought them into her room.

Deciding to put green towels out, she took a second to bury her face in the soft green fabric before she started her shower. After a while in the warm spray while scrubbing vigorously to get rid of the adhesive spots that remained on her skin, Lex started to feel more like her usual self. She finished up then, towel dried her hair, and looked at herself in the mirror, swiftly examining her face and then locking eyes with herself, uncertain of what she read in those depths. After a few seconds she dropped her gaze and turned away with a sigh to look through the clothes she'd brought. Finally deciding on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved, light blue shirt, Lex dressed quickly and made her way downstairs.

As she got to the large kitchen, she entered with a smile. She smelled something spicy and fragrant, and it made her stomach realize how long ago lunch had been. Seeing Casey by the stove, Lex stopped. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Casey smiled in return. “No, we're just about ready to eat.”

“How about if I set the table?”

Casey's smile got a little broader. “That's pretty fancy for us around here, but it’d be great. The bowls are in that cabinet, the glasses are over there, and you can find the silverware here.”

“What are we having?” Lex asked as she began collecting what she needed. “It smells really good.”

“Veggie chili. I've got some corn chips here too, if you want something to go along with it.”

After several minutes of setting up to eat at the kitchen island, dishing up, and getting situated, Lex and Casey sat down to dinner. Lex sampled the chili after blowing on it carefully to cool it down, and found it warm and comforting, the beans and corn expertly spiced and all the flavors melding perfectly.

“This is great! Thanks again for feeding me,” Lex said before taking her next bite.

Casey smiled. “No problem. This recipe is one of my favorites, so I'm glad to share it.”

“I've been meaning to ask, are you a vegetarian?”

“Yes, well, a vegan, actually.”

“So you don't eat meat, as well as not eating stuff like eggs and milk?” Lex asked.

Casey nodded in response as she took another bite of chili.

“Cool,” Lex replied with a smile as she continued eating. After a few more mouthfuls, Lex looked curiously at Casey again as she began wondering about something else. “I've been meaning to ask you…can you tell me more about yourself? I feel like everyone here knows almost all there is to know about me, but I don't know much about anyone else here except you.”

Grinning, Casey asked, “So to make it even, you want to find out more about me?”

Lex shrugged. “Not exactly. I am curious to find out how you came from a farm and ended up here, though, and I'd like to hear more about your family, since you've heard some stuff about mine. Of course, you don't have to tell me anything—”

Casey's laughter cut off her words. “Hell, I don't mind, I was just joking. I'd be glad to ramble on about myself. Anything else you'd like to know?”

“Yes, how did you find out you're different from most people?”

Casey chuckled at the question. “Well, I think everyone is to some extent, but my differences didn't show much at a young age. To backtrack a little, so that I can put it all in order, I'm the second kid in my family. I had an older sister, Mary, and a younger brother, Billy. It sounds like I was a lot luckier than you in the parents department, since mine were great, and we all loved them.

“Now, my parents and brother and sister were all tall, but none of them grew as big as I did. By the time I hit high school, I’d started on the height I have now. I grew a lot taller than most of the guys in school, which didn't get me a lot of dates,” Casey continued, rolling her eyes. “From what my parents told me, the only other person in the family that had been anything like me was my mom's great-grandfather, Peter Olafsson. He measured nearly seven feet tall, and my mother told me a number of stories that sounded like legends about his strength. The only thing I ever remember my mom advising me about was that I should find someone big and strong like myself to date. I guess there had been family rumors about Peter.”

She raised an eyebrow and grinned a little at the memory, but then began to look a little sad.

“Anyway, I didn’t think much about it since all I figured I’d do when I graduated high school was to keep working on the farm. My brother Billy followed right after me in that respect, but he got way more gung ho about it. He always read and studied farming methods and brought home ideas about how to improve our farm. Sometimes my mom and dad would take his suggestions, sometimes not, but that didn't stop his research. It made them both really proud.”

Casey paused then, her face softening, and as Lex watched she could almost see Casey remembering those days on the farm. After a moment, Casey shook her head quickly and then continued. “My older sister was pretty different from the two of us, though. She’d never really liked farm life, so she went to college and ended up marrying a banker who lived in the capital. Anyway, none of that really mattered much until the day we lost my parents. They’d been coming home from a late movie on a Friday night and were sideswiped by one of our neighbors, an old man who’d fallen asleep in his pickup truck. From what the medics said, they died instantly.”

Lex had involuntarily covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh, Casey, I'm so sorry.”

Casey tried to smile back at Lex but appeared much more sorrowful now. “At least it's been long enough so that I can talk about it without crying. Anyway, the accident happened when I was nineteen. My brother had turned seventeen and was set to graduate from high school later that year. I’d been working on the farm since I graduated the year before. So my brother and I talked about it, and he said that he’d wanted to work on the farm once he finished with high school anyway, so we figured we'd keep the farm going between the two of us.

“But we ran into trouble with my sister since our parents had left the farm to all three of us equally. She wanted to sell it and divide the proceeds.”

Casey sighed and rubbed a hand across her forehead. “So my brother and I figured out a way to keep the farm and buy my sister out gradually. She didn't like it as much as getting a huge lump of cash, but she did like the idea of getting paid, so she didn't complain too much. Unfortunately, we had a couple of bad years then, one right after another. Mary insisted on being paid though, and that landed us in the hole. So, we hit upon the idea of me working the following year to get extra cash, and that I’d help on the farm when I wasn't working. Of course, then this job came up.”

Casey stopped speaking as Joan walked into the kitchen. The other woman had dressed casually in jeans, an olive colored t-shirt and combat boots, and looked at the pair at the table, then nodded.

“Lex, welcome to the team,” she said in a jovial tone that didn’t sound quite real, moving forward to shake hands. Lex nodded in return, wondering what might be next, since she remembered Joan being sort of hostile during her interview. “I see Casey’s been doing a good job of making you feel at home.”

“Yes, she's been really great. She's helped me with everything so far,” Lex replied with a grin in Casey’s direction. The blonde ducked her head a bit, looking embarrassed.

Joan moved to the freezer and picked out a frozen dinner, then popped it into the microwave. “Unfortunately,” she continued, turning back towards Lex, “I'm not much of a cook like Casey here is, but that's probably OK since I don't have much time for anything like that, anyway.” She shrugged then and gave Lex sort of a furtive once-over as she asked, “Have you heard anything about your training regimen yet?”

Lex looked at Joan and then Casey with a question in her eyes.

Casey shook her head. “No, not yet. I figured it’d be on tomorrow's schedule.” Pausing to look at Lex, Casey then explained, “You'll get a daily schedule posted in the holder next to your door, probably for at least the next few weeks until there's a set schedule for you. After that, they'll put notifications in the holder if they arrange any special tests or events for you going forward.”

Lex nodded and ate another bite of chili, trying not to show how much she wanted Joan to leave so that she could hear the rest of Casey’s story. The microwave finally beeped and Joan grabbed her food, heading for the door.

“Glad to hear you're settling in, Lex,” she called as she left the kitchen.

Lex looked at the empty door momentarily, not seeing much point in answering. She heard Casey murmur, “That’s strange; she’s hardly ever here,” as Lex turned back to face the blonde.

“Anyway, what happened next? How did you decide to take this job? What did your sister do?” Lex couldn’t help wriggling in her chair in her excitement.

“Well, when Mary found out I’d taken this job, she insisted that we sell the place. My brother wanted to run it on his own, hiring help when necessary, but she knew he wouldn't be able to pay her—not that we afforded it so well even with the two of us. She said she’d sue us if she didn’t get her money right away, so we ended up selling the farm. She seemed thrilled to finally get her share, but I felt terrible. I wished I hadn't taken the job, because I know that my brother only ever wanted to farm that land, but it was too late. So, he ended up hiring on to farm for the outfit that bought our place. He never really seemed to get over losing our farm, though. A year later, he got cancer, a kind that's common to corn farmers using certain types of pesticides. He was dead six months later.”

“That's terrible! I'm so sorry. What a horrible thing to have happen to your family!”

Casey responded with a grim smile and another sigh. “As you can imagine, my sister and I aren't close. I saw her for the last time at the funeral three years ago. She sat up front, all dressed in fancy black clothes like she had a right to be there. She tried to talk to me as I left, but I wouldn't speak to her. As far as I’m concerned, I lost the rest of my family that day.”

Lex sighed sadly. “I'm sorry to hear it. It's a terrible thing to have someone in your own family that you can't trust.”

Casey laughed softly but without humor, looking at her with the ghost of a smile. “It seems you know all about that.”

“That's the truth,” Lex replied with a grim smile of her own.

They ate in silence for a while longer, each caught up in their own thoughts. Once they’d finished, Lex moved to collect up the dirty dishes in order to put them in the dishwasher and Casey stored the leftovers.

“Do you still want to help me put my bed frame together?” Lex asked Casey, looking over at her friend to gauge her mood.

“Sure, if you're still up to giving me a demo afterwards,” Casey responded, nodding decisively.

Lex smiled in reply. “I was planning on it. Come on upstairs and we'll get started.”

The two of them froze for a moment after entering Lex’s room, looking around in surprise since it appeared the number of boxes and packages had doubled since lunchtime. The scent of the room had gone from slightly stale air to a fainter version of the new car smell, probably due to the number of new things. Finally, Casey turned to Lex with a grin. “Feels like Christmas, doesn’t it?”

Lex found herself giving an answering grin as the two of them moved the new boxes to the corners of the room to make space to work. After following Casey’s directions to find a well-stocked toolbox in the storage room down the hall, Lex smiled to find Casey laying out the pieces of the futon frame on her return.

“This is about the extent of the help I can offer you, though,” Casey warned. “I’m not real handy with tools.”

Letting out a brief laugh, Lex replied, “Don’t worry about it. For most of my childhood we had only girls in the family, so my father seemed to designate me the honorary boy and I learned all kinds of handy things as a result. I’ll probably just need you to hold things in place now and again.”

Casey grinned broadly then. “That I can do.”

The two of them worked carefully through the instructions, and a little over an hour later Lex proudly inspected the completed frame with the futon mattress on top.

“Piece of cake, right?” Lex asked Casey as she put the tools back in their box.

“Whatever you say,” Casey replied, looking a bit dubious. “So, are you ready to give me that demo?”

“Sure, just give me a minute to put some workout gear on,” said Lex, disappearing into the bathroom with a handful of clothes after quickly fishing them out of her bags.

When she emerged ready to go, they went downstairs. At ground level they both paused, hearing the small noises of someone moving around in the kitchen.

“Do you know who it is?” Lex asked Casey quietly, curious since they hadn’t run into anyone else all day.

Casey shrugged. “Let's find out.”

Both of them poked their heads around the corner and saw Serena sitting at the kitchen island, looking downcast and eating out of the ice cream carton Casey had showed Lex earlier.

Lex looked up at Casey questioningly. Casey shrugged. “Hey, Serena,” she called, “Lex is going to show me one of her martial arts forms. Do you want to come along and watch?”

Serena looked up at them for a moment and sighed. She shook her head negatively before putting another spoonful in her mouth and looking back down at the table, seemingly lost in thought.

“OK, then, see you later,” Casey responded.

When they got to the staircase going down, Lex asked Casey, “Is Serena OK? She seemed upset.”

“She gets into these bad moods sometimes,” Casey replied, shaking her head. “When she does, it's usually good to keep out of her way until she feels better.”

Lex let out a small sigh of worry for her teammate and continued to follow Casey. They climbed down a few levels, but when they started to go past the fourth level down, Lex had to speak up.

“How many floors does this place have?”

Casey briefly looked to be mentally counting. “Seven I guess?”

“Seven?!”

“Yeah, if you count from the top floor down.”

After a moment to think about that, Lex shook her head as if to clear it and asked, “What's on this level? I haven’t been down here yet.”

Casey laughed and pushed the door open. “Check it out for yourself.”

Lex saw a glassed-in area with a pool and attached hot tub to their right as they came through the door, and she gaped at it for a moment.

“To the left are the lockers and saunas,” Casey continued, “but we're going this way.”

She led the way down the hall and through a door straight ahead. Inside lay a nice sized gym, the type Lex had studied martial arts in as a child. She felt a jolt in her stomach as they went through the door and she recognized the setup. In reaction to the familiarity, she felt her shoulders tighten as if waiting for a blow and felt a mix of wariness and resignation seep into her mind. Lex shrugged, trying to loosen her shoulders and throw off the feelings.

“This is probably where you'll be studying, once they find you an instructor. Hopefully they can get you Mr. Chen.”

“Who's he?” Lex asked, although something in the back of her mind stirred in dim recognition at the name.

“He was my martial arts instructor when I first came here, and he’s great. Anyway, is this a good space for you to do your demonstration?”

Lex nodded, looking around a little more now that she’d calmed down from the initial surprise. Highly polished tongue and groove wood flooring covered half the room, and in the other half padded mats covered the floor. Mirrors ran the length of all four walls and a heavy bag hung in one corner. Additional padding sat in another corner, but other than that the room looked clean and empty. As Lex breathed a deep, calming breath, the familiar scent of old sweat and floor polish greeted her. Lex took off her shoes and socks and did some light stretching in the section with the wood flooring. Somehow the cool, solid feel of the wood under her feet grounded her enough to cause her to lose the rest of her shakiness. Casey went to the edge of the padded floor and sat, leaning against the wall and watching Lex.

She cleared her throat before addressing Casey a moment later. “The form I'm going to show you isn't an official one. I came up with it as a little girl while practicing some hard moves and trying to perfect them. So, I designed a form that strung them all together so I could practice those things in particular. My dad hated it of course, so I had to do it in secret. I eventually mastered all of the moves I'd been working on, so I changed the form to include some other bits I liked a lot, and eventually it took the shape it has now. Anyway, it's my favorite, probably because it includes some of each type of martial art I know, so it should give you an idea of the range I have. Ready?”

Casey nodded from where she sat on the edge of the mats, watching intently. Lex turned to face the long mirror in the front of the room. As she stared at her reflection, her bare feet firmly anchored to the wooden boards, she could almost hear her father's words in her ears: See your enemy. Beginning her personal form, Lex clearly saw her father standing before her in her mind's eye. He wore the uniform everyone wore at the school he ran and he loomed over Lex, his hands in fists in front of him, giving her a derisive sneer.

In the past, she’d seen her mother sometimes, heard her endless insults and wishes that Lex had never been born, but lately it had been solely Lex’s father. She saw his jaw rock as she punched him. Lex watched him try to dodge her kick but got him from behind with another blow. She punched him in the windpipe then and kicked him so hard she could hear his knee splinter. Lex moved, dodged, kicked, and punched, seeing her father before her the whole time. Finally, as she wound the form down, she saw him one last time, bleeding on the floor. And then she stood motionless on the wooden floor, sweating and breathing heavily, again seeing Casey by the mats, standing now. Lex felt tired from the workout, but her mind still buzzed uneasily, having thought too much of her past today, and she clenched her fists tightly before letting her hands fall open.

Casey shook her head, her expression incredulous. “That was something. I've never seen anything like it.”

Lex looked at Casey, puzzled, as she eased onto the mats to stretch out. “What do you mean?”

Her friend laughed. “Well, I couldn't actually see a lot of it, which made it pretty unusual. Some of the things you did just looked like a blur of motion to me. I've never seen anyone move like that, not even Mr. Chen, and he's been practicing martial arts all his life. Sometimes he can move that fast, but I could barely see your arms and legs the whole time you were moving.”

Lex considered that for a moment, feeling surprised since no one had ever told her that before. “Well, maybe that's why they asked me to join the team. I'll have to take your word for it, though, because I could see my reflection fine. Aside from the fact that you couldn't see some of it, what did you think?”

“Very impressive. I wouldn't want to tangle with you,” Casey replied, shaking her head again.

“What do you mean? You've got extra dense skin and all; what could I do to you?”

Casey chuckled. “Just because I've got an advantage doesn't mean I'm invincible. If you throw sand in my eyes, for example, it's going to affect me the same way it would you. Poison still works, too. If you make me lose my balance, I’ll fall on my butt like anyone else. And, although my body is denser than most regular people’s, for others like me, each of us seems to have a different level of density. Given your response to Joan about improvising based on the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents, I wouldn't want to take my chances.”

“You're just saying that,” Lex replied, trying to scoff but feeling secretly pleased. Then, she surprised herself with a yawn that she tried to hide behind her hand.

Casey looked at her watch, her expression registering her surprise. “I hadn't realized how late it’s gotten. We should probably get some sleep now.”

Lex tried to bite back another yawn, but failed. “I guess you're right,” she said with a grin. “Let's head up.”

When they got upstairs, Casey paused a moment in front of Lex's room and pulled a sheet of paper out of a holder next to Lex's door. She handed it to Lex, commenting, “What do you know, they’ve posted your schedule already.”

Lex looked it over and remarked with some chagrin, “It seems like I've got more tests tomorrow at nine.”

“Well, I'm usually in the kitchen eating breakfast by 8:30 or so. See you then?”

“Sounds good.”

The two said goodnight then and Lex went inside. She dragged herself to her bags and pulled out a t-shirt to sleep in, but felt barely able to reach the bed. Once dressed, she stumbled through her bedtime routine, her eyes closing as she did, and then she was finally able to try her new bed out. She didn't even remember later what it felt like because she fell asleep almost as she lay down.

The only thing Lex remembered from that night was a short burst of a dream. She sat by the river on a huge rock at sunset. The colors seemed to stream out over the water, and as she turned to see the painted sky, she could see her uncle next to her and then Casey sitting beside him. She nodded to them, and the three watched the sky turn colors as the light dimmed.

Continue to Chapter 7
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Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!





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Now we know what Lex's powers probably are. ^^ The way you wrote about Lex and how she feels about her past only suggests that there's a lot more to go before she'll be able to accept and make peace with it, but I like the way you worked them into the story and how she deals with it. It was nice getting to know more about Casey and getting glimpses of the other team members. I'll be interested to know if the tests will reveal more about her abilities. Looking forward to the next chapter! =)

Yeah, there's definitely more to her than meets the eye...although she's not always inclined to believe it. :D

I think to Lex, her past experiences seem like an unwelcome visitor that she can't get away from, especially among this new group of people who all seem curious about her...thanks for the encouragement; some of this wasn't always so easy to write, since Lex didn't always want to cooperate, so I'm glad you liked how it came out. Also glad you liked the cameos, and more about Casey. Thanks again for the kind words, and definitely more to come in the next chapter!

"Lex could see beyond Casey into the space beyond"
That should probably be "past Casey" to avoid repetition.

Thank you for your kind suggestion, updates have been made. Thanks also for reading closely enough to notice that, and I hope you've been enjoying the story so far!

In this case, no news was good news: I quite like the story and I don't really have any critics.

No opportunities for virtual cookies this time, though. That made me sad.

Excellent - I'm glad to hear it! :D

Don't worry...there will definitely be more opportunities down the line, I promise!

Hmm I wondered a little about the scene with Casey telling her story and Joan coming in, I understand that Casey and Lex have some natural rapport but would Lex not also be curious about Joan?
How did she know that Casey would not continue her story while Joan was in the room , I mean she could not know beforehand that the story would take on such a depressing twist or that Joan does not already know the story?
Also when I read:
So, we hit upon the idea of me working the following year to get extra cash, and that I’d help on the farm when I wasn't working. Of course, then this job came up.”
I first thought Casey's story was as good as finished and wondered that Lex expected anything more.

On another note about your writing style;
You fit a lot of small daily details in which gives of a kind of relaxed feeling to me, going slow, shooting for the long haul maybe even trying to be meditative, while astonishingly delivering a lot of introspection, possible hints and architectural facts.
Problem is while you deliver much "backward information" there is not much "forward progress" and with a release schedule of once a month that can be pretty frustrating.

On that front, I have to say that the style is working for me. It's engrossing. I have no idea what songs came on Pandora while I was reading this because I was that immersed. I really felt Lex's anxiety, especially when you talked about being unable to cry.

Now that you're starting to tie it together, the previous things you've set up about Lex's background and powers are meshing really well. Dreams about running away from her father, dodging unusually quickly... They're not hiring her (solely) as a martial artist; they're hiring her as a speedster. A speedster that also happens to be a trained-from-birth martial artist is a dangerous combination.

More forward progress would definitely be nice, but I get the feeling this is going to be one of those stories where the payoff really comes from reading it all at once. Those stories are frustrating to read in a serial fashion, especially with a long update cycle, but they're very good stories. Looking forward to the way things change as you get the ball rolling.

Yeah its a pretty captivating style I am mainly trying to be a critical voice, good feedback is encouraging but its also important to point out pitfalls that might be a danger in the future.
Right now the style fits the pace of the story and its mainly the impatience of a reader that bring some frustration, its just I get the feeling that at some point a change of pace will be required and I am trying to say: please please get the timing right :)

You know there a good stories out there with far more frustrating styles for example:
http://robling-t.livejournal.com/
I like the tin man story, but maybe its because I am not a native english speaker but some of the authors sentences confuse the hell out of me.
Here I mainly have to deal with patience issues ^-^

Thank you very much, it's kind of you to say, and I also appreciate your critical comments. As far as the change of pace, I think you're right. What I think I've been seeing happening, however, is more of a gradual change, like a snowball rolling downhill - it may seem to start off slowly, but then it picks up speed more and more. I think you'll like it, but please do let me know if you see me going wrong.

I do try to make my writing accessible, where I've noticed that there are some writers out there that don't as much. At any rate, thank you for trusting me with your patience; I'll do my best not to abuse it.

I'm so glad that the story has been that immediate for you; that's exactly the experience I'm trying to bring for you, that of being right there and living it, and I'm so happy that it sounds like that's how it came through for you. :D

Good on you for noticing something that Lex can't seem to see herself. It's hard to write her sometimes, since it's difficult for her to see some things about herself (especially positive things) that are sometimes obvious to others.

You may be right about the fact that the real payoff will be reading this story all at once, although I think you'll find that there will be more forward progress with each passing chapter. I'm sorry to hear it's frustrating to have to wait, but I'm glad to hear you still like the story nonetheless. Thank you for offering me your patience; I hope over time I can make you happy you did.

She definitely is curious about Joan, but from the way Joan's acted so far (being so heavily aggressive while questioning Lex at her interview, and now, when she came into the kitchen and basically just interrupted Casey and Lex), I don't think Lex feels she could comfortably ask much of her. If I had to guess a little further, I think Joan's manner reminds her a bit much of her father, so I think that would be further off-putting for Lex.

As far as Casey not continuing her story, Lex was taking her cues from Casey, who'd stopped the moment Joan walked in and didn't start back up again until after she'd left.

I think Lex is the kind of person who always wants to know the rest of the story, even when most people would think it was done, which is probably one of the reasons she follows anime that seem to go on forever, too.

I'm glad you seem to like the style of the story; I realized early on when I started writing it that it definitely has a pace of its own, which I feel I have to respect. I'm happy that some of the things you pick out are definitely some of what I'm going for, including the long haul, introspection, and hints.

I hear you about the release schedule, and I understand how that could be frustrating as a reader. I wish I could post more frequently, but with my current schedule, that isn't going to happen anytime soon. However, I think you'll find as the next few chapters go up that there's definitely more forward story momentum, and I hope that you enjoy it. Thank you for giving me your patience; I'm planning some surprises and I hope you'll find it pays off in the upcoming chapters.

Ah do not stress yourself to much, while some people do better with a little pressure there are to many who try to push themself to hard and burn out that way.
Also as a seasoned online reader I am all to familiar with sudden hiatus and unfinished stories, so
even if its sad I am always prepared for the worst when reading a story.
Besides if I could do the writing myself, I would have already done it ;P

Thanks for the comment, and no worries...when I decided to start this, I figured out the pace I could reasonably work at, so that's what I'm going to stick to. And, just for your peace of mind, I'm determined to keep at posting this for some time to come, so no worries there, either. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

I really liked this chapter! The pacing was good and the day moved along with the story. ^^

Everything seems to be going well with Lex and Casey and she's settling in fine. :D

I loved all the little scenes with the doctor, casey's back story and the last bit of her having the demo. ^^

Looking forward to read the next chapter. :D

So glad you liked it! I did think the pace picks up as the story goes on, so I'm glad you found it so, as well.

Also happy you liked all of the interactions in this chapter...although I know Lex definitely likes hanging out with Casey and feels much more comfortable with her, it was interesting nonetheless to write about her physical exam and how uncomfortable it made her. Next chapter coming soon - thanks for stopping by to read this one and for your comments!

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