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Chapter 27: Reunion
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Anticipation, stories, implied murder, great escapes, bad language, living in poverty

For this first time in a very long time, I am publishing this chapter without the invaluable help of my editor in chief, gwoman, since she's very busy with a compressed summer class and lab. Please wish her well and please let me know if I've missed anything in my edit of the chapter.

Also, I wanted to let everyone know that I'm proud to be the latest member of the Pen and Cape Society, a group of awesome superhero-genre authors! Please check out the link to find out all of the great things they're working on. If you'd prefer to check out their work on your e-reader, you can get a free copy of a collection of short stories from some of my Society colleagues, The Good Fight, from Smashwords or Amazon.

Back to Chapter 26

Although nothing much happened at first, Lex found herself looking at their video often, scanning any comments to see if maybe she could tell if her friend had stopped by. After a few days of this, and a few looks by Riss as she passed by, shaking her head, Lex decided that she would have to be more patient.

The four of them sat down to plan their next steps a few days after they returned. Most felt that touring had left them more worn out than they'd anticipated, so the group agreed that they wouldn't schedule a second tour for another couple of months at least.

“Good,” Casey said, nodding with satisfaction. “That'll actually give me enough time to look into venues within easy driving distance to see what's available. I think this will work out really well.”

“Yeah,” Lou said, nodding back at her. “It'll also give us time to work on the new songs we've been writing. Maybe by the time we start touring again we'll have a new CD to promote.”

Riss just raised her eyebrow and Lex smiled back at her. “Remember when we started? You never thought we'd have enough material to even play a show.”

“Well, that was a while ago,” Riss replied, giving the ghost of a smile. “I think you two may have turned me into a musician while I wasn't looking.”

Lex turned to Lou and the two of them shook hands while laughing. The group broke up then, Casey picking up her laptop to do research on venues while the other three drifted over to their instruments.

“Hey,” Casey said, raising her voice to be heard over the initial din that occurred while setting and tuning up. “I hope you don't mind me booking some things nearby over the next few months.”

“I think that's a good idea,” Lex replied. “That'll give Victor and Kate the opportunity to find us.”

Riss groaned. “Just not too many,” she said, a warning tone in her voice. “And, I think they should be close enough so that we can get there, play the show, and get back within a day.”

“Agreed,” Lou said, nodding as he bent to continue tuning his bass. “We're not going to be able to rest up enough for a longer tour if we spend all our time in between playing shows, and there's no way we'd be able to get a new CD ready.”

“OK, OK,” Casey grumbled, turning back to the computer.

Over the next few weeks, they took advantage of the extra time they had. Lex noticed Riss spending more time with her computers than she'd been able to while the group was on the road, and she and Lex resumed their training.

During her time online, Riss had noticed a concerning trend, however: the continued westward movement of the MSI team trying to find them. When she'd shared it with the group, everyone agreed that the only thing that could seem to be done at the moment was to continue watching. “Hopefully they'll get tired of not finding us and give up after a while,” Lex had said. “I guess it's good that we came out to the West Coast.”

Lou and Casey slept in more than they had on tour and worked to complete the finishing touches on the gym, the two of which Lex paired in her mind due to the effort they'd had to put into building it. They'd been compressing the abandoned cars in their lot for use as weights and had engineered a system of pulleys and pins so that they could reconfigure the system on the fly, sort of like a giant version of an all-in-one workout machine, Lex thought. The band members had also been working on writing and recording new songs and practicing, and in the evenings Casey discussed their next tour date possibilities.

Casey had booked a few local shows for the band, but after the first couple they'd played with no sign of Kate or Victor, Lex had given up hope that her idea would work. The shows had been well attended and received, however, and they continued to sell CDs to the point where the four of them began talking about having a run of them made so that they wouldn't have to spend so much time making them by hand.

They talked about it as they arrived for a show in Tucson one Saturday night, but they hadn't come to an agreement. Lex and Casey argued against it because it would bring up the cost of making the CDs, but Riss and Lou just seemed tired of making them. Still discussing it back and forth as they lugged their equipment to the backstage area, the band waited since they would open the show, but it wasn't supposed to start for another hour. Riss, Lex, and Lou alternately stayed with the equipment and took breaks to get a drink or walk around the back while Casey went up front to set up the merchandise table.

After a half-hour, Casey came backstage, which was unusual since she didn't like to leave the CDs once she'd set up; however, Lex thought that her friend looked excited about something.

“I think they're here,” Casey said with a big smile, her eyes meeting all of theirs as she looked around the group. “Lex, go around with me to the other side of the stage and tell me if you think it's them.”

The two women moved around and managed to find an alcove where they could stand and remain mostly unseen. Lex scanned the crowd, frowning, since she didn't see her friends, but when Casey pointed out one couple leaning on either side of a square support beam, Lex could feel her heart rate pick up .

“You're right, I think that's them,” she whispered to Casey.

Lex looked back at them, marking their appearances. She thought one of the reasons she hadn't spotted them at first probably had to do with the haircut Kate sported now, much like the shoulder-length cut Lex used to have. It didn't work as well with Kate's curlier hair, Lex thought, but she felt sure that the exhausted expression on Kate's face was the real reason her friend looked different. Both she and Victor appeared ragged; their clothing seemed old and repaired in several spots, their shoes scuffed and worn out.

“Casey, can you keep an eye on them during the show? We're going to have to start setting up soon, so I'm not going to be able to go out now. It might make the most sense for me to try to talk to them after the show, since Kate and I are better friends. Unless you'd like to approach them now?” Lex looked up at Casey, her eyebrows raised.

Casey shook her head, bending to whisper in Lex's ear. “No, but I will talk to them if they try to leave while you're onstage. Don't worry about it; they'll probably stay.”

Lex nodded her thanks and the two of them rejoined Riss and Lou. She nodded again as they met back up with the others.

“It's them,” Lex told her friends with a smile.

“About time,” Riss said with a nod as they all began to carry their gear onstage.

They set up quickly, Lex trying not to look too often in Kate and Victor's direction. When she saw Lou and Riss had almost finished setup, she walked to each of them and whispered something. They both nodded, and moments later they opened with “Heart's Abode,” the one from the video. Some of the people in the audience started clapping, seeming to recognize it, and Lex looked over at Riss with a look of surprise only to meet her friend's nod and smirk that seemed to say, “I told you so”.

Lex couldn’t tell if the performance went fast or slow; sometimes she felt incredibly anxious that her friends would get lost in the crowd, and other times the set seemed to go too fast for her to catch hold of. She finally decided to stop worrying and let her concerns go to focus on the performance. After a while, Lex got so into it that she felt herself living the songs, and then their part of the show was over. She thanked the crowd, feeling dazed, and reminded them the band had CDs for sale before beginning to pack up her things. A moment later, she looked up to see Riss.

“Why don’t you go ahead and go?” Riss said, giving Lex a small smile. “I’ve got this, and Lou always carries our amps out, anyway.”

“Thanks!” Lex exclaimed, putting her hand on Riss’ arm before disappearing backstage.

When she barreled out the stage door a minute or so later, Lex felt her worry climb again as, to her surprise, she ran into a couple of fans. Shifting from foot to foot, Lex spoke to them for a few minutes and actually signed one girl’s CD at her request. On a normal day, she would have been bowled over by the idea, but didn’t have time to think as she made her excuses after a few minutes to move out and scan the club area. Her heart sank as she glanced where Kate and Victor had been standing and saw no one, but as she looked at Casey she caught the taller woman’s eye, even though a number of people waited to buy CDs. Casey gestured her head in the direction of a corner bar, and Lex felt a surge of relief as she gazed over to see Victor and Kate waiting for the bartender.

Lex had a moment of doubt as she pushed through the crowd until she stood just behind Kate, but swallowed and pushed it off, then cleared her throat before leaning towards Kate's ear to make sure the other woman could hear. “Excuse me,” Lex said, then watched as Kate half-turned towards her.

Although she'd been reasonably sure before, relief flooded Lex as Kate faced her and she recognized her lost friend, unable to help smiling. At the same time, the look of recognition that crossed Kate's face didn't seem the same. Kate smiled in return and nodded.

“Hey, I saw your show. Your band was really great,” Kate said.

“Thanks,” Lex said as she leaned forward a little more, quickly scanning the area around them and seeing no one paying them too much attention. “Kate, it's me, Lex,” she said quietly but in a clear voice.

When she stood back up straight, Lex could see the shocked expression on Kate's face. Her friend gasped, and then Kate had a hand on Lex's arm, not gripping tightly enough to hurt but holding on.

“I thought you were dead,” Kate said quietly as she leaned forward, not letting go.

Lex found it hard to read Kate's whole expression because of the big sunglasses she wore, but her friend appeared shocked and wary. Smiling, Lex leaned forward again.

“Yeah, I was, twice, but Casey kept an eye on me so I pulled through,” Lex murmured into Kate's ear, tilting her head in the direction of where Casey was still selling CDs.

Kate's mouth fell open as she spotted Casey, and Lex bent to her ear once more. “Has anyone been following you?”

This time when Kate turned back to look at her there was a broad smile on her face. “No,” she said as she quickly leaned forward to Lex's ear, “we managed a clean break. You?”

Lex smiled in return as Kate squeezed her arm affectionately once, then let go. “Hey, we're dead, remember? Burned up in a fire.” she said in a murmur.

“Yeah, I forgot,” Kate said with a smirk, looking Lex up and down as if to say that she looked pretty healthy for a dead person.

“Why don't you come and meet the rest of the band? How about if we talk about everything after the show? Maybe we could take you to breakfast?” Lex said, trusting Kate to realize she meant to find someplace more private to talk later.

“Sure,” Kate said, now smiling broadly. She turned to Victor, who had finally finished the transaction with the bartender and was bringing two beers over. “You remember Lex, don't you?” she asked.

Victor gave them an intense look of surprise, and Lex saw that he almost dropped the bottles he carried in his shock. After a breath, he looked over at Kate and, after reading her relaxed, happy expression, chuckled once.

“Yeah, I remember her,” he said, handing Kate a beer and taking a sip of his own. “I take it we're going to be hanging out with the band tonight?”

“I always wanted to be a groupie,” Kate responded, following Lex in the direction of the merchandise table.

Several hours later, the bunch of friends had found an all-night diner and been seated at a quiet corner table.

“So,” Lex said as she sipped some tea, “I think you owe me a story, Kate.”

Kate raised her eyebrow as she put a forkful of pancakes in her mouth, then appeared to remember something as she nodded, then swallowed. “That's right, I did say I'd tell you what was going on if we ever met again. I’m going to have to tell as much as I remember, though. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, since it happened a while ago, now.”

Sighing, Kate took a sip of water before beginning. “It all started when I met up with one of the private investigators that I'd asked to look into Neil's disappearance.” She looked up at the rest of the table for a beat. “Neil was my boyfriend, and he vanished around the time I'd been working for the Alpha team for about a year and a half,” Kate explained. Riss and Casey both nodded as Kate continued.

“I'd had a couple of others look into it, but no one had turned up anything. I finally turned to the last detective I used out of desperation; I'd heard a few recommendations that Randy Cole specialized in missing persons, so I decided to give him a try. He didn't find anything much at first, but then he started asking me questions about the identities of some of my co-workers and whether I was still working with them. I didn't want to answer because of all of that secrecy paperwork they made us sign when we joined up, but he assured me that he needed it for the investigation and would otherwise be completely confidential, so I told him names of some of the people I worked with then, and some of those who'd left.

“I didn't hear from him for a while, then I got this strange call. He sounded really nervous and asked me to meet him at Union Station. When I got there, Randy said he only had about an hour before his train left. When I asked about it, he shook his head.

“'I dug too deep,' he said. 'I've got to get out of here and find somewhere to lay low for a while.'

“I figured he was joking at first, but then he started telling me what he'd found out. When all of the normal leads had run dry, he'd researched some of the people I'd told him about and tried to find anyone they'd been dating.

“'It was a long shot,' he said, 'but after I looked at your squeaky clean guy and couldn't find anyone who wanted him gone or any sign he'd been wanting to leave you, I decided to check it out, since you mentioned you had a co-worker with a similar story, and I wanted to see if there was a connection.'

'”The strange thing, he told me, was that most all of them had one, for any that he could manage to talk to. Sometime after coming to work for the organization, all of them he’d talked to had partner break ups, if they'd been dating anyone. Most of them were quite early on; my case was the longest one, he said.

“When Randy went to talk to the boyfriends and girlfriends, he said he nearly hit a stone wall. The majority of them slammed their doors in his face when he explained what he wanted to know. A few of them even ran away. But, he finally found a couple willing to talk to him.

“One man had split up with an acquaintance of mine who'd left Alpha about six months after I'd arrived. I didn't get a chance to know her well, since she was gone so quickly, but Jill seemed attractive, kind, and smart. Apparently, the man pretty much broke down when Randy asked him about Jill. He was anxious to talk to Randy, giving him a photograph of her and asking that if the detective found her during the investigation that he pass along whatever information he got. Randy seemed embarrassed about the whole thing, but he mentioned the man cried when he talked about some shadowy people who showed up a number of times to offer to pay him off to leave Jill. Finally, when they began to threaten his life he broke things off, but he told Randy that he'd really only done it hoping that he and Jill could get back together later. The man said that it wasn't long after that, however, that he stopped being able to get in touch with her.

“Randy recounted how frantic the man seemed and how he'd showed the copy of the missing persons report he'd filed. The police had called him a couple of days later, though, saying how they'd checked with her employer and had been told everything was fine, she just didn't want to speak to him. According to Randy, the man just went on and on, explaining how he knew something had happened to her, that she hadn't been angry, just sad when they broke up, and that they'd continued to talk until her disappearance. Finally, Randy had to leave, but it looked to me like he still felt sorry for the guy.

“He went on to say that he'd been able to find one other person who'd talk to him, the ex-girlfriend of another old co-worker of mine. The woman hadn't wanted to talk to him at first, but when he questioned her whether anyone had approached her, offering to pay her off to leave her partner, she stopped.

“'I'll tell you this,' she said, and Randy said he'd never forget that sad look she gave him. 'I never wanted to leave her, but they told me I wouldn't be breathing now if I hadn't taken that money. Maybe I shouldn't have, though. I still miss her.'

“'It was about a week later that some shady people showed up to see me,' he said. 'They wore trench coats, hats, and sunglasses like the other two had described and explained in detail how unhealthy it was that I'd developed an interest in their business. They suggested I take a permanent holiday somewhere else so that I didn't catch a cold or something that would be the death of me. I've seen them ever since, everywhere I go,' he said, jerking his head in the direction of one of the nearby food stalls, where I just spotted the shadow of a man in a trench coat, almost concealed behind a support beam.

“'Another thing I found out about your co-workers that maybe you didn't know—most of them are alone. Some are estranged from their families, are orphans, are only children with dead parents, or have elderly parents who probably aren't much longer for this world, like you. I also haven't been able to find out anything about these co-workers that you say are gone. They don't seem to be anywhere, like they've dropped off the face of the earth. That usually means one of two things: they're dead, or they've been kidnapped and are still being held somewhere. Look, I don't have the whole picture here, because I didn't have enough time. I don't know what you do, and I don't know what these creeps want from you, but if I was a young man, I'd get you out of this situation you're in even if it killed me. You don't try to isolate someone from everyone they're close to unless you're trying to do something bad to them. I worry for you, young lady,' he said as he got up and put his hat and coat on.

“I thanked him as he got up to leave for his train and gave him an envelope with his pay in it. He accepted it, but took about half of it out and gave me the rest back. When I gave him a look of surprise, he just shook his head.

“'Trust me, you're going to need it more than I do,' he said, shaking his head. 'It looks like you have some powerful people lined up against you, Kate. Good luck, you'll need it.'

“I stopped him just before he left, though, realizing he hadn't said anything more about Neil, and he just sighed. 'I don't know anything for certain, because I couldn't find out anything as to his whereabouts. From what I heard from those two who talked to me, though...' He trailed off and pinched the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger before he looked at me again. 'I'm sorry I couldn't help or find more out for you, but if these people are involved and he hasn't been found yet, well, I don't think he ever will be. I'm really sorry.'

“I just kind of stared after him as he left. I think I knew by then that Neil was dead, because I always knew he would have contacted me otherwise, but I'd tried not to think about that. I sat there for a while before I could collect myself enough to leave, and then I noticed that the shady people he'd been talking about followed me when I left.”

Kate paused to have a bite to eat, and Lex watched as Casey and Lou glanced at each other, Casey's face distorted with worry. Lou smiled at her and took her hand, and as Lex watched, the worry on her friend's face eased as she smiled back at Lou. Kate looked at Lou and Casey before she continued.

“Glad you two managed it, somehow,” she said, a little grin on her face. “Anyway, I started getting paranoid, especially since the weirdoes in the trench coats followed me whenever I left Alpha headquarters. I tried to get as much information as I could, but I couldn't find out much. Finally, I managed to get a look at my file one day when they had me in for a physical and the doctor got called out of the room and forgot to log out. I figured something funny had to be going on when I got to the notes about some drug I was supposed to be taking, when nothing had been prescribed to me.”

Lex and Riss looked at each other with tight, angry expressions, Lex remembering how it felt to find out about that. Kate nodded.

“I see you guys figured that one out, too. Anyway, I was wishing I had Riss along when I went to the library to look up some of the drugs I'd scribbled on my hand from my medical file. MSI came up on the web search, but before I had time to read anything, even more goons showed up. I cleared out of there fast, but I'm sure they knew who was looking, since some of them followed me there in the first place.

“I got the sense that I'd be next to disappear, since they knew I was looking. The day George mouthed about how I wouldn't be around much longer, I decided I'd better go,” Kate concluded with a nod. “I had to make sure Victor knew, though.”

Victor looked up then, smiling. “Since we spent so much time idled because of George, Kate and I ended up doing lots of things to practice our skills and amuse ourselves. We'd already found secret places to leave each other messages, so she let me know what she planned and why. My ambitions in life didn't include being a lab rat, so I left as well.”

Lex turned to him. “How did you get away from DC?” she asked.

Victor shrugged. “We took Greyhound. It was Kate's idea, and I think it turned out well. No one seemed to pay attention to us when we traveled that way.”

Lex smiled and nodded along with everyone else, and Casey said, “Well done,” looking at Kate and Victor in turn.

Kate laughed while Victor gave a grin before turning back to his coffee. “OK, everyone, now it's your turn,” Kate said with a big smile.

Lex outlined what happened and how they'd responded, and her other friends chimed in with details she'd forgotten or hadn't heard. Kate and Victor listened intently through the account of the escape from the M Agency facility, Kate nodding when Riss spoke about the human experimentation evidence she'd uncovered.

When Casey and Riss talked about what they did to take care of Lex once they'd gotten away from MSI, Kate's expression turned stony and Victor frowned, drawing his brows together. Finally, Kate broke in as Casey spoke about resuscitating Lex, halting as she went through the story.

“So you weren't kidding about almost having died twice,” she said, looking from Casey to Lex and back. After a moment of silence, Lex's nod the only reply, Kate added, “I'm glad you're still with us.”

Lex reached over to squeeze Casey's shoulder and the larger woman smiled, but it didn't seem to reach her eyes. “Yeah, I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for Casey,” Lex replied. “I'm not physically the same in a number of ways, like why I started dyeing my hair—because now its natural color is white—and my odd new eye color, but I'm alive, so all the rest isn't much in comparison.”

Kate shook her head, looking amazed at everything that had happened. Lex shrugged and continued. “I know I'm lucky. From what Riss found out, most of the people MSI experiments on don't make it.”

When the four of them went on to describe their break-in to the MSI lab where they'd been holding Lou, even Victor looked incredulous.

“Wait,” Kate interrupted, waving her hand in front of her. “You mean you took the whole facility down, walked in there, grabbed Lou, and left?”

“Pretty much,” Lex said, elbowing Riss, who actually grinned at Lex before finishing another bite of her waffles.

When they'd finished the account, explaining how they'd escaped from where Lou was being held and drove west, the whole table fell silent for a moment before Kate threw her head back and laughed. “You guys take the fucking cake, that's what!”

Victor smiled as he glanced at her but kept his own thoughts on the matter. The group's conversation continued onto other topics, mostly about how everyone had settled into their new lives. Kate and Victor both seemed interested in stories about the band and how their recording and touring had been going. When Kate started talking about how she and Victor had been settling in, however, Lex watched her friend sigh and run a rough hand through her hair.

“Unfortunately, the only IDs we could find weren't very good. Victor opened a repair shop, so he's doing well, but I've had a tough time finding work at all, never mind anything I might actually want to do.”

Casey gave her a questioning look. “What did you do before you got onto the Alpha team?”

Kate snorted a laugh, but Lex thought she didn't sound like she found the topic amusing. “That's the fucked up part. I wanted to go into law enforcement, if you can believe that.” She looked at the ceiling for a moment, and Lex felt a wave of sadness wash over her as she watched her friend blink fast a few times, then bring her face level again to fix all of them with a grim smile. “I wouldn't touch that profession with a ten foot pole now, but I think it was my FBI application that got the Alpha team interested in me.

“These days,” she continued, looking at the table and fingering her napkin, “I'm working at a factory where we sew fake designer clothes. Everyone who works there is either undocumented or, like me, badly documented. Oh yeah, a few ex-cons, too. All really nice people, all of us hardly making any money. I guess at it gets me out of the house during the day, at least.”

Victor shot her a look, which Kate caught, then sighed. “I know,” she said, looking at him, then turned back to everyone else. “Victor's told me a million times that I don't need to work there and I should keep looking until I find something better, but with my papers...fuck, I don't know if I could find anything better,” she finished, shaking her head.

After a moment, she raised her head and looked at the others. “Sorry. I didn't mean to tell you all this crap, especially not since you all came back from the dead, and just after having met you, Lou,” she said, turning to look at him with a faint smile. “I'm fine, though, don't worry about me.”

Lex shot a quick look at her three house mates and received nods and a smile from Casey in return. She cleared her throat before speaking. “Actually, this leads into something we wanted to talk to you two about. Let's get out of here and we can talk about it in the van. Can you guys spend the night? We can get you back to where you need to go tomorrow, if you can.”

Victor looked at Kate with a raised eyebrow and a shrug, then nodded. Lex watched Kate seem to think about it for a moment, then turned back to her. “Sure, OK. I have to be back to work early Monday, and Victor has to be back at the shop then, too, so as long as you can get us back by then, it's fine.”

“Not a problem,” Lex said, sneaking a look at Casey, who was now smiling broadly.

Lex waited until they'd gotten on the interstate headed to Phoenix before she took a deep breath and said, “We'd actually like you guys to come and live with us.” Victor gave Lex an interested look and a raised eyebrow, but Kate appeared shocked.

“So, wait a minute. You all agree about this?” she asked, pointedly looking at Riss in the front passenger seat.

Riss nodded in reply as Casey chimed in with a “yes” from the back of the van. “We wouldn't have asked if we hadn't agreed.”

Kate looked confused but spoke up again. “Even you, Lou?”

Lou nodded, looking briefly in the rearview mirror from his position in the driver's seat. “Yeah. I hadn't ever met you two, but I trust everyone else's opinions and they vouched for you. I can see why: you seem like good folks.”

Kate looked away for a moment, and Lex could almost swear she looked a little embarrassed. “Thanks, I guess. When did you have time to talk about this, though? I doubt you had time to talk backstage.”

Lex sighed as she dropped her head, then met Kate's eye. “It was no accident that you came here tonight. Did either one of you see a video of the band on the internet?”

Victor nodded, and Kate shot him a glance, then spoke up. “Victor saw it, then showed it to me. I didn't know before now that he's a music fan, but he insisted that we go to your next show. After I saw the video, I wanted to go, too. Do you think somehow we recognized you or something?”

Lex shook her head and bit her lip, then spoke up. “My eye and hair color weren't the only new things I noticed when I woke up, Kate. I ended up with some new things I could do, too. You could say I called you to come.”

Lex waited with her bottom lip in her teeth, expecting her friend's anger, but Kate just turned to Lex with a look of wonder. “Really? You've got to tell me all about it!”

“Later, later,” Lex said, feeling her cheeks heating up as she held her hands out in front of her. “First, I wanted to know what you think about joining us.”

Kate sighed, then frowned. “I don't know, Lex. I think it would probably be more dangerous for all of us to be seen together than it would be for any of us to be seen separately.”

“Maybe, although the bunch of us has never really been seen together before now,” Lex said with a brief nod. “In balance, though, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. For starters, I look different enough now that you didn't even recognize me, did you?” Kate shook her head and Lex continued. “Casey looks different as well, and I notice you've changed your look, too. But maybe more importantly, I think that the talents the bunch of us have together would make it far less likely that we'd get caught and more likely that we could get away if anything did happen.”

Lex paused to look at Riss with a question in her eye, which Riss nodded in response to. “Also,” Lex continued, with a smile at Riss, “we could help you with some other things. You mentioned you had problems getting good IDs. Riss could set you up with some real ones, and she could get what was owed to you from your Alpha pay.”

Victor raised his eyebrows and shot Kate an encouraging look, but Kate still sported a dubious expression. “How could we do that and not get caught?”

“I managed to do it for the three of us,” Riss replied, “so it'll be even easier to do it again, since I know all MSI's procedures. The accounts for the M Agency and the Alpha team are separate anyway, so that should make it even easier to cover our tracks.”

Victor shot Riss a smirk as if from one tinkerer to another, which Riss returned with a small, sly smile. Kate watched the two of them for a moment, then shook her head.

Lex smiled at Kate before she continued. “I also thought we could use a guitar player and a good sound man, so I immediately thought of you two, but I think one of the main reasons I'd like you to consider is that I missed working with you guys and I'd like to do it again. So think about it,” Lex finished, glancing over at Kate and Victor without meeting their eyes, giving a small smile.

Victor gave Kate a look that Lex couldn't interpret, and the two of them stared at each other for a minute or two before Kate gave a laugh and turned to face Lex. “All right, the two of us will talk it over.” After a beat to catch her breath, Kate smiled. “Now that I know you guys are loaded, though, I can't wait to see where you've been staying,” Kate said, breaking out into a huge grin.

Casey laughed in the back as Lex echoed her in the middle seat. “You may be disappointed in the location itself, since the neighborhood isn't all the great, but Lou taught us to make the inside much nicer than the outside probably ever was.”

During the rest of the drive, Casey, Lou, and Lex explained a few more details about how they'd arranged things between the current group members, but after a while, the conversations trailed into lively catch-up sessions. After Kate, Casey, and Lex had talked a while, Kate and Riss switched seats so that Kate and Lou could have a chance to talk. Lex felt surprised to see Riss and Victor conversing in quiet tones at one point, tinkering and computers seeming to be the main topics, and after which the two both sported smiles as if happy to have found someone on their own wavelength.

Once they got back to the warehouse, they all carried the gear inside, and Lou and Casey proceeded to give the grand tour to Victor and Kate. Victor said little but looked at everything, especially what they'd done to create the gym.

Kate expressed her thoughts much more vocally, however. “God, you guys have done a lot with the place! It's beautiful,” she said, gazing up and around at all the space they had in the main room with all of the musical gear, the dining and sitting areas, and the kitchen.

Victor shot her a look that almost screamed, “So, when are we moving in?” Kate fixed him with a raised eyebrow and an indecipherable look and followed Lex up the stairs to the first floor bedrooms, Victor trailing the two of them.

While Victor investigated one of the spare bedrooms, Lex and Kate stood in the hallway near Lex's door. She said to Kate, “If you guys don't like this one, there's another next door that you can check out. They're not that different, but I think there's a little more space in the second one.”

Kate lifted an eyebrow. “Oh, that's probably the one I'll sleep in. It looks like Victor's made up his mind on this one.”

When Lex gave her friend a puzzled look, Kate just smiled. “It's not like that between us, though a lot of people seem to think it is.”

“Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—” Lex began, twisting her hands together in front of her, but stopped as she saw Kate shake her head.

“Not that I might not have been willing to try it out if he was interested, but since we're both into guys...”

She trailed off with a shrug, and Lex couldn't help a small smile at her friend's description of the issue. “I guess that would put a damper on things. Come on, I'll show you to your room.”

Once the two guests had been set up for sleep, Riss and Lex headed back to their own rooms. Before they parted, Riss stopped Lex with a look.

“So, about Kate's story,” Riss said, then hesitated before she continued. “There's no nice way to ask this, so I'll just come out with it. Do you think they were trying to keep people from breeding outside the group?”

Lex raised an eyebrow as she glanced at Riss' frown. “That's a possibility I hadn't thought about. It might be giving them too much credit, though. MSI doesn't seem to keep its lab stock around long enough to consider breeding it.”

Riss nodded, her mouth set in a grimace as she turned and waved goodnight. Lex stood for a moment, still thinking, before she entered her own room. She credited the disturbing dreams she had that night to her upset stomach.

Forward to Chapter 28
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!



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<“Wait,” Kate interrupted, waving her hand in front of her. “You mean you the whole facility down, walked in there, grabbed Lou and left?”>
I think there's a missing word, like "brought" after the 2nd you in the 2nd sentence.

<“So, about Kate's story, Riss said, ...>
I believe there should be a " after the 2nd comma.

Another great chapter as always! ^_^

Thanks so much for the typo spotting! I've fixed them now. : )

Thanks also for coming by to read and comment, and for your kind words!

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