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Chapter 18: Breaking
Storm
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes: Warnings for this chapter - bad language, detailed description of a violent battle

Much thanks to my editor-in-chief gwoman for her work on this chapter!


Back to Chapter 17

The first couple of weeks following the holidays seemed about the same as they always had, between training, meals with teammates, studying, and going out on the weekends. Lex had noticed some subtle changes, however, most of which she didn't know what to do about.

She became aware of the headaches first. They seemed to happen more often now, until near the end of most days she had a headache banging around behind her eyes, some days much worse than others. Remembering the previous fuss when she’d had her bad migraine, however, Lex refrained from telling the doctors anything, trying to tough it out most of the time or take over-the-counter medication if the headache was moderately bad. She reserved the medication they’d prescribed her only for the very worst headaches, since they pretty much knocked her out.

Also, Lex noticed that she'd begun to feel ill if she spent too long away from the building. She first remembered feeling the headache-ridden, nauseous sensation when she went out with Serena and Casey early in January to celebrate her six-months probation being over. Lex ended up calling a cab to take her home early, and within fifteen minutes of returning to her room, she felt fine. At the time she figured it was just an odd occurrence, but when it happened again on the following weekend, she became uneasy about it but stuffed it into the back of her mind, unsure of what to do.

Another thing that gave her pause was that after the holidays were over, she'd written a long email to Kate to catch her up on the news and to ask how the holidays had been for her, but almost two weeks had gone by with no response.

The day she realized that she'd been training with Mr. Chen for six months, however, Lex entered the studio joyful after having considered everything she'd learned so far and anticipating lessons to come. When she saw Mr. Chen sitting on the wooden floor waiting for her instead of in the middle of his usual stretches, her heart seemed to catch in her throat, and she stopped her rush into the room. Mr. Chen gestured to the floor in front of him.

“Lex, please sit with me. There's something we need to talk about.”

She sat, her mouth suddenly dry, and waited, trying not to think of everything she might have done wrong to anger her teacher. Mr. Chen continued, “Lex, I've been put on another assignment four days a week, starting tomorrow. I wanted to let you know about that right away. I've also been thinking about what direction we should take with your training next, and I had some ideas I wanted to talk over with you.”

Lex's stomach seemed to have dropped through the floor, but she swallowed and answered, working to keep her voice steady. “OK, Mr. Chen.”

“In the six months we've worked together, you've gained a good knowledge of both Wing Chun and Tai Chi. You're a good student; you listen well and work hard. There is more I can teach you, and I will continue to do that in the day a week we have together. You can practice in the meantime and ask Casey to work with you to help you continue to improve.

“However, I had an additional idea that might suit you even better. I was thinking that you have a high level of skill in a number of martial arts disciplines, but that none particularly suit all of your unique strengths. Due to that, I thought that perhaps you might like to work on a combination form, like the one you created before. This would be something that you could design, based on all of your knowledge and skills, in order to showcase and maximize your strengths. When I come once a week, I can see what you've been working on and offer advice, and we can also work more on your Wing Chun or Tai Chi. What do you think?”

Listening to him, Lex had actually started to feel excited again, despite her earlier misgivings. “Well, don't a lot of teachers frown on that sort of thing and say you need to keep each art pure?”

Mr. Chen smiled wryly at her. “Many teachers say things in order to make sure they stay at the top and that their students always have to look to them in order to learn more. My greatest hope as a teacher is that my students can take what I've taught them and use that to continue learning, eventually far exceeding me. I think that, given as much time as you've devoted to the martial arts over your life, you can successfully and respectfully combine forms to come up with something to highlight your talents.”

“Thanks, Mr. Chen. I'd really like to try that.”

“Good,” he said with another small smile. “Let's discuss where to start.”

They talked for a couple of hours, Mr. Chen giving Lex a clear assessment of what he considered her strengths and what areas she could work on. By lunchtime, they'd agreed what she should focus on to help direct her efforts: she was small, quick, flexible, more powerful than she looked, and could take more damage than it looked like she could. Also, they discussed the martial arts that Lex felt she had the best grasp of, both from a philosophical point of view and from a skill perspective. They decided that the ones she should focus on would logically be wing chun, hapkido, and judo, but that she shouldn't feel limited to getting good ideas from just forms she knew.

After lunch they worked on some of Lex's initial ideas, running through some of the moves that she felt represented her best. Mr. Chen critiqued her, tried some things out with her, and gave advice to help her construct the new form. They both decided to stop earlier than they usually did that afternoon, Mr. Chen again sitting down across from Lex on the floor.

“I think you've made some good progress today,” he said, nodding. “If you work at it every day and ask Casey to help you run through some of your ideas, I think you’ll continue to do well. I’ll come by every Friday and we can review what you’ve put together. I can offer suggestions then and we'll also work more on your wing chun and tai chi.”

Lex swallowed, suddenly nervous again. “Thanks, Mr. Chen. I’ll do my best to make you proud.”

He leaned forward then, putting his hand on Lex’s wrist gently. “I am already proud of you, Lex. Remember not to overwork yourself and get injured.”

Lex had to get up then, trying to blink back the stinging in her eyes. “Thanks, Mr. Chen, I'll be careful.”

She fled the room, trying not to burst out in tears. Lex had a swell of conflicting emotions in her chest that all seemed to want to get out at once. Her surprise and happiness at hearing her teacher's approval warred with her sadness and shock at the fact that she wouldn't see him every day anymore. By the time she got back to her room the headache of the day was raging. She took some of her powerful painkillers and tried to relax by having a nap. She didn’t wake back up until after midnight, finding a note from Casey on her bedside table saying that she'd saved a plate of dinner for Lex in the refrigerator. Lex walked to her drapes and slipped between them to stare out over the moonlit water, hoping an answer to all of her confusion would come to her.

When she explained the situation to Casey across the kitchen island the next morning, the other woman looked puzzled. “I wonder what he's been assigned to. The way he put it almost makes it sound–” Casey broke off and stared thoughtfully into her tea, finally looking back up at Lex. “It just seems weird, is all. I mean, we trained together for months, but nothing like this happened. I wonder what else he's supposed to be doing.”

Lex shook her head, wondering the same thing. “He didn't really seem to want to talk about it. Anyway, would you mind working with me on this form I'm trying to build? It'd be very helpful to have someone to spar with to practice and help me shape it and to make sure the form doesn't have any weak areas. I don't want to get you off track on what you're working on, though, because I know you've been training really hard on your own program. If I can help you at all with that, I'd be glad to.”

As she finished speaking, Lex blew on her English breakfast tea, trying to cool it as she watched Casey hopefully.

Her friend laughed in reply. “Not a problem. I do have my own program, but it’s mostly just a lot of weightlifting. I'd been thinking recently that I should spend more time on my martial arts practice, since I'd only been devoting an afternoon a week to it, plus our sparring matches, so I think this would be perfect. How about two afternoons a week, following lunch?”

“Maybe Tuesdays and Thursdays?”

“That would work for me. So we'll start this afternoon after lunch.”

“OK. Keep in mind that it'll be pretty rough right now, though, so any advice you can give would help. I figure we can try a lot of variations and see what works best.”

To her surprise, Lex actually saw a smiling face in the mirror when she reached the martial arts studio later that morning. After about an hour of solo work in the martial arts studio, however, Lex paused as the alarm that she'd heard before went off. Muffling a curse, she ran upstairs, catching up to Casey near the top of the stairs into the main entrance area.

“Do you have any idea what this is about?” Lex asked Casey as they hurried across the main floor to the next set of stairs.

The taller woman shook her head with a look of excitement. “No. I guess we'll find out soon enough, though. See you in the briefing room!”

They both ducked into their rooms to change, but when Lex emerged a few minutes later, having had some trouble attaching her gloves to her jumpsuit, Casey appeared to have gone on ahead. Lex entered the briefing room to find everyone there except Serena, who walked in slowly a few minutes later. Clara glared at her for a moment before looking at all of them and beginning to speak.

“We've been called in on special assignment. We're going to the Alpha team compound because two of their teammates fled with top secret information, and we're going to help find them.”

With that, two pictures flashed on the huge wall monitors, what seemed to be recent pictures of Victor and Kate. Lex could feel all of the blood draining from her face as her stomach dropped, and she realized her mouth had fallen mostly open but couldn't bring herself to care. She couldn't hear anything for a moment as her heart beat loudly in her ears, but as she looked to her right and left, Lex realized that something must be off about the job. Riss had her arms crossed, staring at Clara with a raised eyebrow. Casey shook her head and rolled her eyes, and as Lex's hearing came back, she realized that Serena had begun talking.

“What 'secrets,' exactly, are they supposed to have stolen?” the redhead asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Are we looking for some kind of chip or thumb drive or papers, or what?”

“That's classified information.” To Lex's surprise, she cataloged the signs of nervousness on Clara's face.

“I just bet. So are we supposed to get these unknown 'secrets' back, catch Victor and Kate, or both?”

“We have been requested to help capture both of them, alive if possible, and to bring them back. They should have the information on them.”

Serena snorted then and rose from her seat to head for the refreshment table. “Bunch of bullshit,” Lex heard her mutter as she passed by.

In the briefing following, Clara explained that they'd just heard of Kate and Victor's disappearance, and that they had only been reported missing fifteen minutes previously, so they might well be able to find the two of them once they arrived on the scene, but Lex only half-heard Clara's words. Lex felt she'd mastered her shocked expression, but her stomach still felt like lead and she was compelled to stare at Kate's picture. They'd even made her friend look sinister somehow, Lex noted, thinking that it had probably been a combination of the lighting and her eye patch. Feeling confused and sad, she tried to figure out what could really be going on while she watched Clara's lips move without listening to her words, sure no answers would be coming from that direction.

Lex traveled along with the momentum of the group a few minutes later, getting into the van, surveying the grey day that passed by the windows with some trepidation, and getting out when the van stopped a short while later. Once she stepped outside, however, Lex had her second shock of the day, along with a cold blast of wind. They hadn't left the city, but had arrived in a neighborhood totally different from the warehouse district they lived in. She could see the lower parking lot of what looked like a rich person's estate as she looked around. There appeared to be acres of grounds and she saw a sprawling house at the top of a hill.

Looking up at Casey in confusion, Lex asked, “Where are we?”

“These are the Alpha headquarters. Swanky, eh?”

Casey's sour look seemed to describe her actual opinion better than she probably could have explained it, and something about the honesty of it made Lex smile. Riss had begun to set up some of her laptops inside the van, handing each of them a communication earpiece out the door. Serena mumbled something about investigating the kitchen before disappearing. Since Joan hadn't been there that morning and was reputed to be out of town, that left Casey and Lex.

Turning towards the larger woman, Lex asked, “Do you want to, um, examine the grounds?”

Casey winked at her. “Good idea. Clara,” she said, raising her voice to carry the few feet to where Clara stood in conversation with someone who appeared to have come from the house, “Lex and I are going to have a look around.”

They picked a direction that would eventually get them to the house and began walking. Once out of sight of the rest of their group, Lex very showily put her communicator in a pocket, and Casey quickly followed, lowering her head to Lex's.

“What's all this about?” Lex murmured.

Casey took a quick look around them, and then ducked into a nearby stand of exotic trees. When Lex followed Casey and leaned against a tree nearby, her friend bent down to speak quietly into her ear.

“I don't know exactly, but they aren't the first people to run off, and I bet they won't be the last.”

“Why?” Lex's whisper felt painful in her own throat, since she had to try to be louder than the wind rattling the remainder of the dried leaves on the trees surrounding them.

“They must have had their reasons. You've read the contract, right? Aside from becoming sick and leaving or sometimes retiring, I've never heard of anyone getting out of one of these teams any other way.”

“What?”

Casey shrugged, looking into Lex's incredulous face.

“Yeah, that's definitely not one of the things they tell you when you sign on. Mostly what we do is try hard not to find them. That 'secret information' they talked about is probably just a BS excuse to get them back.”

Lex looked up at Casey again, glumly now, and nodded. Casey straightened up and looked down at Lex, moving to put her communicator back on, her look asking if it was OK. Lex sighed and nodded, pulling out her own and fitting it to her ear.

“Nothing so far,” Casey reported, and then turned to Lex to ask, “Do you want to keep going through the grounds?”

Lex shrugged. “How about we go in different directions? That way we can cover the area more quickly and then meet up again in the middle.”

Casey nodded and pointed behind the house. “OK, how about I take this direction, and you take the other?”

Lex nodded in agreement, turning towards the front of the house. “See you on the other side.”

Since she stood near to the house, Lex slowly climbed the hill towards it. When she reached a spot a couple of yards from the building, she examined the front of the extensive house, seeing only closed blinds and no activity. With a sigh, Lex turned her back to the house and surveyed the rest of the grounds, finding mostly a lot of lawn and the parking lot where the van she'd arrived in had been parked. Idly, Lex tried to think like Kate, to identify any features on the grounds she might have been interested in. With that, Lex's eyes went almost automatically to a grove of tall trees and plantings set at a low point in the swell of the land, about halfway between the house and the wrought iron fence that marked the edge of the property. Her feet began moving in that direction as if by themselves, as she occasionally looked up at the light grey sky and wished for more warmth or at least a little less wind.

Lex looked around once she entered the grove, glad that it cut the wind to nearly nothing. She saw a set of metal chairs surrounding a similar table near the center of the grove, all painted white, and sat for a moment at one that had been pulled out. From there, Lex had a good view of the remainder of the lawn flowing down to the street and of the sidewalk through the iron rungs of the fence. After a moment, however, something else caught her attention. She noted a large storm drain inflow a few feet away from where she sat, and that the concrete over it had a manhole cover on top. Lex looked at it as closely as she could from her chair, and then craned her neck in the direction of the house. The trees and smaller plantings seemed like they would effectively screen anyone sitting in the little grove from being seen back at the main structure.

Raising an eyebrow, Lex considered for a moment, mostly dismissing the idea as too obvious, but unable to stop thinking about it. Eventually the fact that her stomach had been churning with worry since hearing the news won Lex over. She told herself she'd just look around for a few minutes and then be back before anyone realized she'd gone. After looking in all directions for a moment, Lex took off her communicator and put it carefully under the chair she'd been sitting on, hoping it would look as if it had accidentally fallen there. Then she put her gloves on, slid the manhole cover over as quietly as she could manage, and pulled it back shut after she'd climbed partway into the rain sewer.

The smell of mildew and stale water grew in intensity the further down she ventured. Upon reaching the bottom of the ladder, Lex realized she hadn't considered how dark it would be. In the dim light cast by the grey day and filtered through the sewer drains above, Lex fumbled, feeling through the pockets she'd just remembered on her jumpsuit. Eventually she came up with a small flashlight, and smiled when she figured out a way to attach it through the loops on her collar. She surveyed what she could see for a few seconds and then began walking at a fast pace, not worrying about slipping, due to her new boots.

She followed a narrow walkway alongside the rainwater that flowed through the sewer, and noted a matching walkway on the other side. Lex decided to go the way where she could feel fresh air blowing in her face, reasoning that there might be exits in that direction or maybe a connection with the metro. That took her across the water at one intersection, and Lex carefully used her boots and gloves to climb up one wall and down the other, feeling lucky that there had been a peak at the top that allowed her to switch sides more easily.

After continuing for a while in a mostly straightforward path and seeing only darkness and fast-flowing water, Lex started thinking she might be getting near the half-hour mark and that perhaps she should start back. She turned a corner at that moment, however, and saw something white as the circle of light from her flashlight bobbed further up along the wall. Lex approached more closely and saw a crack in the wall where water had been dripping into the sewer. Apparently, it had been happening for a long time since a small stalactite had formed from hard water deposits. As she watched, a drop of milky water formed at the stalactite's tip and got ready to fall. At that same moment, Lex felt a shift in the air that meant something coming her way out of the shadow, and it seemed all her hair stood on end.

Reflexively, she raised her forearm to block the blow she knew must be coming, but cried out at the sharp pain as the block was successful and the force knocked her into the wall, pushing most of the breath from her lungs. She straightened up quickly, tasting the tang of blood where she'd bitten her tongue as her head had been thrown back. Lex's bobbing flashlight picked out the drop of water separating from the stalactite as her mind raced, realizing she could not allow herself to be punched in the head by this person and that getting hit directly anymore would be a bad idea.

In response, Lex moved close to the person attacking her to work on deflecting and redirecting blows and dodging. She didn't attack, however, because she thought it might be Kate and because she remained uncertain of the other person's speed. Lex couldn't get a good look at her opponent, but some things felt familiar, including the fighting style. Moving her arms as quickly as she could, Lex began practicing her sticking hands, redirecting the force of the blow aiming for her throat as she dodged and turned. As her breathing sped up, Lex felt a bolt of anxiety as the light at her throat bobbed at her movement and she saw the water drop suspended in midair just below the stalactite, a perfect, round pearl. She'd experienced this feeling before, when time seemed to slow down, but before her own movements seemed to be progressing at normal speed while everyone around her looked to be moving as if stuck in molasses. In this case, though, Lex's opponent moved at equal speed with her, if not faster. Lex swallowed, knowing she would be unlikely to be able to attack and would be lucky if she could block all the blows aimed at her.

As quickly as she could, Lex brought her legs into play to avoid a crushing blow aimed at her knee. She stepped to the side as she redirected, causing her opponent's foot to connect with the wall nearby. A shower of powdered stone resulted, and Lex moved away from the next blow to her ribs, pushing at the arm and stepping to the side to dodge the strike.

Lex focused on keeping up with the blows coming at her and trying to dodge and redirect them: head, shin, stomach, knee, and head again. She seemed to be on the edge of disaster the entire time, not used to being the one a split second behind, almost too slow. But her eyes began to be able to resolve her opponent, even as her flashlight swung wildly around the inside of the rain sewer, highlighting random things, now showing the falling drop of water just over their heads, a rippling sphere. The person opposite her was definitely a woman, and had the same hair style that she remembered on Kate. Trying to focus on each blow and keep up, Lex realized with a sinking feeling that the heavy punches were moving up her body now.

Dodging another blow to the ribs, Lex twisted to the side, barely deflecting a blow that would have hit her squarely in the sternum. Lex didn't have time to take another breath before turning away from a punch to her throat that she felt the breeze from as it moved by her, and the sick feeling in her stomach told her that she felt she wouldn't be quite quick enough to completely dodge the blow now coming for her jaw.

But Lex did have a break as the flashlight at her throat bobbed crazily again and suddenly illuminated her opponent's face. She watched Kate's good pupil contract at the light, and tried as hard as she could to move out of the path of the fist currently speeding towards her face. Lex managed to avoid the worst of it, but the blow that barely grazed her jaw sent her flying a couple of feet and then shoved her into the wall. As quickly as she could, Lex twisted to pull her hand and foot up along the wall, biting in with her glove and shoe, trying to get some purchase before she got thrown backwards into the fast-flowing sewer water.

The force of the blow kept her sliding for a little distance, and she heard a loud scraping sound as she drew furrows in the wall with the movement. Lex felt highly conscious of Kate stepping quickly up to her, preparing a finishing blow to drive her fist up under Lex's chin.

“Kate,” Lex called out in a near shout, holding her free hand out in front of her and hoping she could get her words out before the other woman pummeled her some more.

To Lex’s relief, Kate stopped, tilting her head to look at her friend. A momentary silence fell, broken shortly by the pebbles Kate had dislodged falling to the ground, then closely followed by a distinct liquid plop. Lex smiled as she realized the last had probably been the water droplet she'd been watching earlier, and it almost seemed she could feel time start up along its normal groove again.

“Lex?” Kate finally asked, and Lex sighed with relief at the confused note in Kate's voice. As Kate stepped forward, she raised a hand to Lex's jaw without touching it, wincing, then mouthed, “I'm sorry,” as she reached into the bag Lex now noticed her carrying. As Kate took a pad of paper out and began to scribble furiously on it, she continued.

“Why did you come?”

Kate had delivered the sentence in a harsh tone of voice, but she softened it by rolling her eyes and then gesturing to Lex to speak. Lex had been so happy to see Kate she'd almost forgotten why she'd come, but it suddenly came crashing over her. She could hear her own voice quivering as her eyes pricked with threatening tears.

“I was so worried about you, Kate. What's happening?”

Kate thrust the pad at Lex then, and continued speaking in a tone of voice that said she was angry.

“That's a lie. I know you're just following orders.”

As she half-listened to Kate, who continued along those lines, Lex read:

You're bugged.

You're being followed; I can hear them in the distance.

My life is in danger and I have to go. If we ever meet again, I'll explain everything.


Her head reeled as she looked back up at Kate saying something that didn't match the look on her face. Kate gazed at Lex with sorrow and apology as she reached out and took the pad of paper, squeezing Lex's fingers for a moment before she stowed the pad away. Lex stared into her eyes for a second and read there that Kate had relayed the truth as she understood it. She'd paused speaking for a few seconds, so Lex threw something in the breach.

“Are you sure we can't just work everything out?”

“I knew you were just doing what they told you! I'll make it so that you can't follow me,” Kate growled out her threat, bringing an open hand up near the uninjured side of Lex's face, looking at her carefully.

Lex nodded at her friend to continue and shouted, “No!” as Kate smacked her fist into her other hand with a good deal of sound.

“I'll miss you,” Kate mouthed as she waved to Lex and started to run off down the tunnel, yelling, “You'll never catch me!”

Lex watched for a split second before beginning to run in the opposite direction, shouting, “I won't let you get away!”

She continued on in that direction, moving at a good clip. Her ears started to get wet after a short time, and Lex wiped at the sides of her eyes to try to stem her tears, sighing. After ten minutes or so, she reached a four-way intersection, water flowing in all directions. Lex took a second to think about which direction she should take next, but then began to hear the pursuit Kate had spoken of and turned to look.

People dressed in what looked like shiny black shells moved fast in her direction, and Lex suddenly became surrounded by them, some carrying guns with barrels so large she could stick a fist in them. One stepped up to ask her in a metallic tone, “Where is Kathryn Willis?”

Cocking her head to examine her questioner, Lex responded, “Who are you?”

It seemed odd to hear the computer-like voice sigh, and then the person continued speaking. “We heard you calling for Kate, so we figured you’d spotted her. We’re support staff for your team.”

Lex gestured towards the water. “She just dove in, but I don’t know which way she went. She can swim like a fish, though, so she’s probably far away by now.”

She paused a moment, looking at the blank helmet in front of her, and then asked, “Is there any way someone could show me the way back to the Alpha headquarters? I don’t think I’ll be much more help to you down here, and now that I’ve been running around I’m not exactly sure where I am.”

The person she'd addressed pointed to one of the other people in the group, one who wasn’t carrying a huge weapon, and pointed them back down the tunnel after gesturing towards Lex. Obviously dismissed, Lex followed her silent guide to where she'd come in and climbed back out of the rain sewer. When she reached an arm up to go through the now open manhole cover, she stopped when she found a hand reached down in front of her. Quickly pulling her gloves off so that they were hanging by their straps like a kid's mittens, Casey's hand swallowed Lex's as her friend lifted her cleanly out of the sewer and placed her back on the ground.

Blinking at the grey day that now seemed very bright, Lex turned to Casey and spotted Riss standing behind her. They both gave her wide-eyed looks once she faced the two of them and Casey gestured towards Lex's jaw, not touching it.

“What happened?”

Lex gingerly touched her face where she could feel a dull ache. She winced as a sharp pain shot through her and dropped her hand. Looking back at the concern on the other women's faces, Lex frowned.

“Does it really look that bad?”

Casey sighed and shook her head ambiguously, but Riss shrugged and moved forwards to put something into Lex's hand.

“Everyone got nervous when we realized we lost you, so they sent some people down to search. You should keep better care of your communicator.”

Lex closed her hand around the communicator, but also something else that felt like a slip of paper. She gave Riss a quick sideways glance, which Riss met squarely, then looked away. Carefully, Lex put her hand inside one of her open zipper pockets and dropped everything inside, zipping the pocket closed afterwards.

“Thanks, Riss. I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to worry everyone.”

“I guess we had reason to be worried,” Riss replied, tilting her head to study Lex's face.

Lex shrugged. “It probably looks a lot worse than it is. Don't worry; I'm sure it'll be fine.”

Casey nodded and gestured towards the van. “Come on, let's get you home to have someone look you over. We were about to take off anyway, since there doesn't seem to be much else to do here.”

The three of them walked back to the parking area, Lex surveying the sky, which seemed to have lightened a little. She shivered against a new gust of wind and walked more quickly, but smiled as the cool air seemed to banish the stale-water smell she'd gotten used to underground.

Once the three of them arrived, they had to wait a few minutes while Riss called Serena to come back. Lex rubbed her arms and legs to try to warm them, happy that they could wait inside the van, at least, her mind working overtime, wondering what was on the piece of paper Riss had handed her. Once Serena appeared, she began entering the van, then stopped in her tracks as she spotted Lex.

“What happened to you?” she asked, staring at Lex's face.

Lex grimaced, and then stopped since it made her jaw hurt more. “It can't look that bad,” she said, but it ended up sounding more like a question and she looked at all three of the other women in turn.

Riss just raised an eyebrow, Casey looked at the floor, and Serena continued to stare. Lex sighed and made for the front of the van to look in the rear view mirror. She saw about an inch and a half along the right side of her jaw that had begun to turn purple and to swell, and the area around it for about another inch had started to swell and discolor as well. Lex sighed.

“I don't suppose we have a first aid kit with a cold pack somewhere in here?” Lex asked, feeling she was being too hopeful.

Serena snorted. “Yeah, we're supposed to have a first aid kit in the van, but they're usually missing anything you need. Hang on,” she said, turning to Clara, who'd just climbed into the front seat. “I'm going up to the house to get Lex some ice.”

Lex held the plastic bag full of ice, wrapped thoughtfully in a fluffy dishtowel, gently to her jaw the rest of the way home. When they got back, Casey wanted to bring Lex down to the medical wing immediately, but, remembering Riss' possible note in her pocket, Lex asked for some time to change out of her jumpsuit first.

She threw herself on her bed the moment she had the room to herself and covered herself with the sheet, sighing and blowing it up in front of her mouth. Then, icepack still on the right side of her face, Lex carefully unzipped her pocket and slipped the piece of paper out with the tips of her fingers. The open drapes let in just enough light for her to read under the sage-colored bedclothes as Lex turned to lie on her left side.

“Find a way for Casey, you, and me to leave the facilities for a couple hours. Have vital information for you.”

Lex noted that 'vital' had actually been underlined a few times. She sighed, blowing the sheet up again and wondering what could possibly be behind this. But she'd known from the first time she met Riss that the woman seemed to know things about the team and whatever went on behind the scenes, things that no one else knew. Maybe she'll have some idea about what the hell's been going on lately, Lex thought. At any rate, Lex decided to think about it until she came up with some excuse to try going out with the other two.

Quickly examining the note, which Lex discovered had been scribbled in pencil on a gum wrapper, she thought about how to dispose of it. Coming up with no other ideas that might not lead to it being found, Lex rolled it into a small ball and swallowed it, covering her movements by massaging her temple with her free hand once she'd eaten the paper pill. Sitting up and sighing as if tired, she chased the paper ball down with several gulps of water from the glass on her nightstand.

Getting up and heading for her dresser, Lex was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Casey, is that you?” she called out.

Casey appeared, shutting the door behind her. “Yes. I was wondering where you were.”

Lex began hastily pulling clothes out. “Sorry, I just lay down for a bit. Give me a minute, and then we'll go downstairs.”

Glancing at the bed covers after she got up, Lex sighed as she spotted a streak of dirt on them and made a mental note to change them before going to sleep next. She then got out a long sleeved t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and sweatpants since she still felt cold. Quickly stripping off the jumpsuit, she heard an exclamation from Casey behind her.

Slowly turning, Lex saw the other woman's eyes glued to the large bruises on both forearms and her left upper thigh where she'd hit the wall after Kate grazed her jaw. Lex sighed again.

“Really, I'm sure it looks a lot worse than it is,” she said, and then continued as quietly as she could. “She didn't know who I was at first.”

Casey looked her in the eye again, shaking her head. “Go ahead and get dressed and let's get you downstairs so the doctors can look at you. I'll make you some of my lentil stew tonight. Hopefully that'll help fix you up, and then you're taking a long bath and getting to bed.”

Lex nodded in agreement, concerned by Casey's look and tone of voice, but also thinking all of that sounded pretty good.

The examination was simply annoying, in Lex's opinion. She asked them if they could do anything about her bruises, but they just ignored the question and x-rayed her jaw, arm, and leg to make sure nothing was broken. Lex felt certain nothing had been, remembering the nauseating feeling and frightening swelling when her arm had been broken as a child, and the x-rays confirmed her suspicions.

By the time they'd finished with her and given her advice on how to care for bruises (which, by this time in her life, she was well familiar with), it had become late afternoon. Lex decided to take a nap until she needed to help Casey with dinner, so she changed her sheets before gratefully laying down and pulling the covers up under her chin.

Although Lex's sleep had become dark and twisting of late, when she awoke, panting a little after her latest wrestling bout with things she couldn't see, she felt happy. She'd figured out how to try to get herself, Riss, and Casey out of the house for an evening, and she jumped out of bed, energized. Wincing a little as the quick movement jarred her sore body, Lex ignored it and grabbed her cell phone. After a little search through the papers on her desk, she unearthed a business card and dialed the number on it.

She sat at her desk chair then, listening to the ringing and impatiently waiting. Finally, just as Lex felt sure she'd get put through to voice mail, she heard the phone pick up.

“Hello?” Clara's voice asked, sounding as if she wondered who would be calling her at that hour.

“Hi, Clara, this is Lex.”

“Lex, how are you?” Clara replied, sounding concerned at once. “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine, just a bit bruised, really,” Lex answered, suddenly holding in the back of her mind that maybe she could use the incident to her advantage. “I had something else I wanted to talk to you about, though.”

“All right. What is it?”

“I'm sure you remember that Riss and I finished the security job you assigned us a couple of weeks back, and you said to us later that everyone had been really pleased with what we did. I was just thinking about that, and thought it would be great if Riss, Casey, and I could go out to celebrate, maybe for dinner or something.”

“Why Casey?”

“I remember saying to Riss at one point that I don't think we would ever have completed the job if Casey hadn't supported us. She cooked great meals to keep us going, listened to us when we ran into snags, and had great advice about how to solve problems. She's one of the reasons we were successful, so I don't think we could leave her out. Ask Riss, I'm sure she'd agree with me.” Lex held her breath for a moment as she finished speaking, willing Clara to say yes.

“I'll have to look into this. I'll get back in touch with you and let you know,” Clara replied after several long moments of silence.

“Thanks, Clara. I think it would be great if the organization picked up the tab, since this was something we did that came out well, but that's not absolutely necessary. Just having a nice dinner out somewhere would be fine, too.” Lex thought about trying to sell the idea by sounding pathetic following her beating earlier that day, but abandoned the idea since she'd never been anyone's idea of an actress.

“All right, Lex, I'll be in touch.”

“Thanks again, Clara,” Lex said and hung up her phone, her mind dancing with hope for the success of her request.

Forward to Chapter 19
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Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!





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Something of a minor detail: when Lex hears the drop of water hit the ground, she should also hear the stone fragments from when Kate hits the wall. No reason for them to fall faster, after all.

Also, I'm pretty much ok for the whole engagement, plus Lex getting thrown back, plus her calling out all happening in the instant before the drop reaches the ground, but I don't think you can also add in Kate answering and Lex sighing. I mean, not without them talking at super-speed. And also sighing at super-speed (I'm not even sure how THAT would work). Granted, that's what you might be going for (maybe Lex actually distorts time instead of just moving fast?) but I'm going to assume not for the purpose of this comment. I think the scene would work better if Lex called out Kate's name, then we get the momentary silence with the debris finally finishing their fall, and then we have Kate saying "Lex?" and everything else.

kuketon viro

Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment, and I'm happy you read through in such detail. : )

Those are good points, as far as the falling stones and the dialogue. I was really intending to imply that time started up its normal groove again just after Lex spoke, so I agree with your assessment of the sequence, although I'm thinking the stones would hit first, since they were let loose at knee-level at the point the water drop was somewhere at head level. I'll have a look at these sections and I'll let you know when the updates have been posted.

As far as how Lex does this, I would say it's more along the lines of super speed rather than time manipulation, although it might appear more like that to someone observing her.

At any rate, thanks again for stopping by to read, and for your great comments!

"...although I'm thinking the stones would hit first, since they were let loose at knee-level at the point the water drop was somewhere at head level."
That is a true thing.

And no problem. Reading this is fun. :)

: ) I'm so glad to hear that it is.

Updates are now posted. Let me know if you see anything else that looks strange, and thanks again for your comments!

Looks good.

Psycho Gecko Guessing

(Anonymous)
Times like this, I wonder if George is just some rich asshole trying to put together his own superhero team. I wouldn't put it past them to have Chen training him now instead.

There's always a few good wrestling holds Lex could borrow. After all, both Judo and Hapkido were suggested. Hammer lock, wrist locks, that sort of stuff. She could also stand to take some stuff from modern military martial arts, since those tend to have something to deal with opponents who have guns.

Given her build, I'd say she could even steal a few pro wrestling moves from Ophidian of Chikara. She won't be performing any version of the Go To Sleep or German suplex on anybody, that's for sure, so best to stick with a move like the Egyptian Destroyer.

So, now I wonder what they did to Lex. I'm trying to get this without having gotten to the next chapter yet. It's possible they hid a bug somewhere in her during all the medical exams, possibly in the head or ear region. That's why headaches would concern them so much. It shows that the bug is having an effect on her in some way that would allow it to be found.

Another alternative is some sort of signal being given out in the place. I've become suspicious of the painting at the beginning, too.

Either way, it's become obvious that they have implemented means to control everyone in some way. A power source for the one with the power armor. George for Casey. Various security measures for Riss (who now reminds me of Dr. K from Power Rangers RPM). Some sort of signal or addiction for Lex. Some of the security measures seem to involve separating people from outside help, like with Serena and Kate.

For George, they control him by making him think he's controlling them. It's like the mice from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy learning about humans by noting what they're tested for by the humans.

Seeing as we're nearing the end of book one, I think it's safe to say it's about time for these mice to cut the cheese.

Re: Psycho Gecko Guessing

Guessing games can be fun! I'll answer you hot or cold for your guesses...for the first two, cold and hot. Although I can see how it might appear to be so for your first guess...

I kind of like the idea of Lex maybe learning some wrestling moves; it could come in quite handy for her in the future. I hope you don't mind if I borrow this idea at some point down the road!

Warm on your guess about Lex, and about why the people examining her would be concerned about what's going on with her. And yes, more about what's going on in the next chapter.

Yes they have! They've managed to isolate them from help as much as possible, haven't they. Very hot about George, BTW; no easier job than to keep someone in line by letting them engage in all of their worst behavior, because the outcome is what you want.

Mice in the next chapter are about to become very busy...

Why doesn't she use the salve that Lily gave her for Christmas? Now would seem like an ideal time, but it's easy to forget things, too. No mention of ideas related to Serena's problem that Lex is supposed to be working on, since it's been a few weeks. Just some observations. ^_^

Thanks for the great story so far!

Good idea with the salve, but yes, you're right, it's easy for people to forget about things. Just wait for that, she's mulling it over still, but I think you'll like what she comes up with.

Thanks for coming by to read and comment!

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