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Chapter 35: New Beginnings
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Stories, moving

Please note that I'm missing my lovely editor gwoman on this chapter, since I'd asked her instead to read over the updated manuscript for the e-book for Book 1 of this story. That's been submitted now, and over the next few weeks will be up at electronic retailers, so hang on to your hats if you want a copy for your e-reader! I'll post a reminder next month, in case you'd like to get a copy. In the meantime, please let me know if anything looks out of order in this chapter, since another set of eyes on it is always welcome.

Back to Chapter 34

Lex fingered the cuff of the jacket Riss had lent her as she approached the table and sat. She couldn’t think of a thing to say as she studied the man sitting there. He had dressed casually today, blue jeans and a polo shirt with a fitted, black leather jacket hanging over the back of his chair. Realizing she hadn’t seen him before except in dim light, Lex looked at his face again, then lowered her eyes just after locking onto his dark gold gaze. To her surprise, he seemed even more attractive in daylight, with strong cheekbones, a lively, intelligent expression, and those amazing eyes. She smiled again as she glanced back up at him, flooded with amazement as she saw on his face that he appeared to be nervous as well.

“You look more comfortable in casual clothes,” Lex said and smiled, hoping that it didn’t sound too stupid as an opening gambit, but he smiled as she said it, which made her feel like a genius.

“I’ve never been much of one for suits,” he replied. “Do you know what you’d like, Ms. Mansfield? I see the waiter on his way here.”

“If you order first, I'll find something,” Lex said, quickly scanning the menu. As something occurred to her, she spoke again. “And, please call me Lex. Everyone was just...surprised to hear someone else call me by name. We tried to be really careful not to use our old nicknames in front of anyone else, because, well...”

She trailed off as the waiter arrived at their table. After the two of them had finished ordering and they were alone again, Rolf spoke after a moment.

“So, what did your group think of the offer? I trust you checked it over with a lawyer?” He looked serious and sincere and Lex swallowed a little nervously before she answered.

“Everyone thought it sounded very fair, and we're all interested to take you up on it,” she replied, then paused for a breath before continuing. “There is something we'd like to ask you for in addition, however.”

He raised an eyebrow in interest. “Please, go ahead,” Rolf invited her.

“Well,” she started slowly, looking at Rolf to try to gauge his reaction, “we'd like to ask that three more people be included in your invitation. The other people are two former coworkers of ours and our former coworker's son. They used Fai Chen as the martial arts trainer for people like us stationed around the Washington, DC area. He trained Casey and I, and I know either one of us would be glad to demonstrate what he taught us. The other is Lily Chen, a healer who's so skilled that she can bring people back from the dead.”

Lex watched Rolf's eyes widen, his voice quiet when he finally spoke. “I don't mean to sound doubtful, but do you have any proof of that?”

Lex nodded and raised her hand. “Yes. She did it for me. Twice. I don't really remember the incidents, but I'd died and Casey kept me alive using CPR until the healer arrived and brought me back. If you want to talk to Casey about it, please be sure to keep it brief because the whole thing still seems to really bother her.”

“I could see why,” Rolf replied, shaking his head. They were both quiet for a moment, Lex waiting to hear what he might say and Rolf looking down at the table. Finally, he raised his head.

“Well,” he continued, “I'm pretty sure the answer will be yes. Please keep this in confidence, but my boss told me to come out here and see if I could get your group to sign under just about any conditions. I can make a phone call and confirm that for you after lunch, if you like.”

“Thank you,” said Lex, smiling at him. “We'll have to propose it to Lily and Mr. Chen to make sure they're onboard. I didn't want to do that until we knew it could be done. If they want to come over here, and I'm pretty sure they will, we can take care of transporting them.”

Rolf just lifted an eyebrow at that, but then their food arrived and the two settled in to eat. After a few bites, Rolf spoke up again, his eyes sparkling with curiosity. “So, do you think you're finally ready to share your story, Lex? I have to admit, what you have shared has only made me more curious about what happened to you.”

Lex swallowed the food she'd been chewing and met Rolf's gaze uncertainly. “Can you keep what I tell you confidential, or do you have to let your organization know everything we discuss?”

He responded with a nod. “You want to know whether I'm obligated to report what we talk about? Actually, the only official business I'm here on is to explain any questions you have about the contract if I can, call for approval on any extensive additional requests, and encourage you to sign. Other than that, we can talk as confidentially as you like, and I promise you I will keep your secrets.”

She couldn't help smiling in return. “Thanks, Rolf. I have one more thing to ask you before I start—how much do you know about what goes on for people like us in America?”

He looked serious for a moment, then shrugged. “I know that none of the American expatriates that I met in the special forces traveled under the names they'd been given at birth. All of them had been on the run before they'd arrived here. For those that would talk about why they ran, some had these sort of bogeyman stories about disappearing coworkers and some shadowy organization, but no one seemed to know anything definite.”

Lex nodded as if something had been confirmed for her. “Well, they're right: there is something going on over there.” She looked down at the table for a moment, trying to think about where to start and realizing that only one place made sense. “I'll tell you everything, but it's going to be a long story,” Lex finally said as she met Rolf's eyes again.

He nodded in return. “In that case,” he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin, “please excuse me for a moment so that I can call to confirm that it's OK to extend the offer to your three friends and make another call so that I can stay here as long as I like this afternoon.”

“Oh, I'm sorry,” Lex said, suddenly realizing that she was probably interrupting Rolf's workday. “I don't mean to take up so much of your time. We can talk about this sometime later–”

“Really, this is more important,” Rolf interrupted, smiling back at her as he rose. “Besides, it's been way too long since I took an afternoon off, anyway. If there's an emergency they can reach me on the cell phone.”

She couldn't help but return his smile as he walked past her. Lex worked to finish her salad during Rolf's absence, having trouble not smiling the whole time. The words “this is more important” kept echoing in her mind, and the warmth in her chest made her feel goofy.

Rolf reappeared several minutes later and sat back down at the table. “As may not surprise you, I got a yes on both counts. We'll settle on the details once you've had an opportunity to contact your friends.” He paused for a moment, then grinned at her as he called the waiter over. “I'm going to order a beer since I'm not going back to work and we're going to be here a while. Would you like anything else?”

“Yes, I think some tea,” Lex said with a conspiratorial grin.

Once the waiter had gone to get their new requests, Lex took a deep breath and started to speak. “Well, it all started when I'd lost my job and I started looking for a new one...”

To her great surprise, Lex found that once she started talking, all of her experiences started coming out—her original identity, all of the happenings at the M Agency, discovering the real purpose of the agency, planning their escape and managing it, her own subsequent brushes with death, rescuing Lou and cracking the MSI DC lab wide open, moving to the West Coast, becoming a band and going on tour, how they finally ended up having to leave the US—and through the whole long story, Rolf listened to her as if no one else in the room existed, asking occasional questions but mostly remaining completely silent.

The crowd that had been there for lunch cleared out, and some people came in for later lunches or tea. When the waiter came over periodically to ask them if they needed anything Rolf ordered fruit, a basket of bread, a sandwich for himself, or more drinks. By the time Lex had finished, some office workers had started to arrive for after-work drinks. They both sat silently for a few minutes, Lex thinking that some of the things she'd told Rolf sounded nearly impossible. As something occurred to her, however, Lex spoke up to ask him a question.

“Rolf, does the government here allow the special forces to go to America?”

“Well,” he said, brow furrowed, “they don't try to restrict our freedom of movement, if that's what you mean. But now that you've told me this, I'm worried.”

“I don't think the government would do anything too stupid because Europe is a world power, but, well, if someone traveled over there whose talents they really wanted to…study, I wouldn't put it past them to make that person disappear like the members of those teams,” Lex concluded, looking anxiously up at Rolf.

“Would you mind if I shared enough of what you told me so that maybe some kind of warning could be passed around to the special forces about traveling to the US? I'll be very vague about how you found out what you know, I promise,” Rolf said, continuing to look her in the eye.

“Please do,” Lex replied, sighing a little in relief. “I don't think anyone should be subjected to that, but I'm sure they have labs like that all over the country.”

After another little silence, Lex watched Rolf look up at her hair, and then he looked her in the eye again. “So, from your story, I'm guessing that your eye color isn't from colored contacts?”

Lex laughed. “Yes, that's the color they turned after my body event. All my hair fell out and then grew back in white, so I decided on this color,” she continued, running her hand through her hair, “to spice things up. Unfortunately, some of the effects aren't so benign. I had to re-learn to digest food and there are lots of things I'll never be able to eat again. Also, although I don't have them too often anymore, the migraines I used to have are now so bad that I sometimes pass out from the pain, which is weird since I'm used to being able to withstand most pain and remain conscious.”

Rolf shook his head, looking fierce. “I'm sorry that you had to go through that,” he replied.

Shrugging a little, Lex met his eye again. “It's over now, thank goodness, and I'm here. I just feel badly that other people are being forced to go through that. I mean, we have evidence, but nothing gathered legally...”

She trailed off as she picked up her cup of tea, but she realized once she had it in her hands that it was now stone cold. The waiter picked that moment to approach the table again, and Rolf looked over at Lex.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Is there anything else you'd like, or could I bring you home instead?”

Lex couldn't help smiling widely at him. “I don't need anything else to eat, but I would like it if you could take me home.”

As they rode on the train side by side, packed closely together by homebound commuters, they talked in low tones. Lex learned that Rolf's family came from Germany but that he'd gone to university in England and had lived all over Europe since then. He had been a gymnastics Olympic hopeful but had to drop out when someone discovered that he had abilities above and beyond the average human. It hadn't been long after that when he'd been picked up by the special forces.

Still listening as they exited the train and walked down her street, Lex slowed when they arrived in the front of the house she and her friends had rented. She gestured up at it, smiling.

“We're only here for a few more days, unfortunately. After that, we're widening the tour,” Lex explained, then paused. “Rolf, I don't know if you know where we'll be stationed…” she began, and he laughed.

“You make it sound like we're in the military!” he replied. “The normal procedure is to send someone from the local team to recruit someone new,” Rolf continued. “I did hear something recently about how they wanted to expand the special forces group here, so my guess would be that you and your friends will be put here. It's not often that they decide to split up a group that already works well together, but you will be expected to integrate with the rest of the team here as well.”

“Thanks,” replied Lex, with a smile. “That sounds reasonable. Would you like to come in for a while?”

Rolf shook his head. “I should probably get going,” he said, then paused and looked at her seriously. “Although I'd like to ask you something. When you finish your tour and settle back in here, I'd like to take you out again, maybe for dinner this time?”

Lex smiled back at him. “I'd like that,” she replied in a low tone, looking him in the eye.

He let out a breath as he smiled back. “Good,” Rolf said as he took a card and a pen from his pocket. “Please just call whenever you've arranged things with your friends, and let me know what the plan is; I'll help in any way I can. I'm also going to write my personal cell phone number on the back here so that you can reach me at any time, even if you just want to talk. All right?”

“Yes,” Lex said breathlessly, as she took the card and folded it into her hand. “I'll call you soon so that you can have my cell phone number, too. Thanks for everything, Rolf, especially for listening to my way too long story.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he said as he took the hand she'd offered and folded it into both of his and shook it. After a few long moments, he let her hand go and they moved apart.

He turned after walking a couple of steps to look back at her. “Until next time, Lex,” Rolf said.

“See you later, Rolf,” she replied, feeling the smile that threatened to split her face in half.

When she opened the door and walked into the little front hall, Lex took a step back as she got a good look inside to see Casey and Kate poking their heads out of the kitchen.

“So,” Casey asked, “how was lunch? We were starting to wonder if you were ever coming back.”

Lex turned away for a moment, sure she could feel herself blushing. “You guys,” she muttered.

Riss had been able to set up an email communications link the following day and sent out the query to Lily and Serena. The answer came back almost right away from Serena—just let her know the time and place—but Lily's reply didn't come for a while.

Riss and Lex sat discussing it about a week and a half later.

“Do you think they just didn't get it?” Lex asked, waiting anxiously and looking at the clock on the computer screen, hoping the response would come during the allotted time.

Riss dipped her head as she studied the screen. “No, it's getting there and I know it's been read, but they just haven't answered yet. What you're asking them is complicated, Lex. Give them some time.”

Lex sighed and turned away, convinced that Riss was right and that she should turn her energies to getting ready for the show that night when she heard the other woman's voice again.

“Hey,” Riss said, “they sent something.”

Turning back as quickly as she could, Lex hurried to Riss' side and read the email with her. Casey wandered into the room a few minutes later, looking as if she wanted to ask the two of them something and raised an eyebrow when Lex started to cheer. Giving Lex an odd look, Casey watched for a moment as her friend rushed forward to hug her.

“Casey,” Lex said, finally looking up with a smile, “they're coming.”

“Well, it's about time,” Casey replied, giving a big smile in return. “When?”

“I wanted to ask you about that,” Lex answered. “When is the next time we have a break in the tour of maybe three days or so?”

“Well, definitely not next week, but the following week we have a show on Sunday and then our next one isn't until Thursday night.”

“Good,” Lex said, nodding as if the gears in her head were turning. “Do you think we have enough time to get to Brussels and then back out to the show on Thursday? I'd like it if we could all get there to welcome them, and then, well, I'm thinking maybe we could all sign the paperwork together, make it legal.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Casey responded, looking serious and pleased at the same time. “Riss, what do you think?”

“Let's do it,” Riss as she briefly looked up from her computer.

“All right,” Casey continued, “I'll run it by everyone else and make sure we're all in agreement.”

And so the entire group, along with Rolf and an immigration official, waited near the center of the Grand Place early on a Tuesday afternoon. The day had dawned sunny but cold, not unexpected for late fall, and everyone seemed impatient, scanning the crowd around them anxiously. Lex did the same but couldn't help but smile when her gaze met Rolf's. He stood at her side, wearing a grey wool overcoat that fell to his knees and a black and white herringbone scarf, and Lex found she couldn't keep her gaze away from his for long.

“You know,” she said quietly, “I completely forgot to ask after I told you my long tale, but you promised you'd let us know what your special ability is. So, what is it?”

He looked away for a moment, then back at her, a serious expression on his face. “All right, that's fair. I'm a shapeshifter, like your friend.”

“Kate you mean?” Lex asked, trying to clarify.

Rolf nodded in return. “She seems like a generalist, though. I'm a specialist; I only shift to one animal. But, since I do, I can do a total transformation.”

“Really?” Lex said, her eyes suddenly wide with excitement. “I've got to see that! Well, not now or anything, but what is it that you turn into?”

He paused then, tilting his head to one side to study her. “I think I'm not going to answer that yet. It's the sort of thing that's easier to show you, anyway.”

“I can hardly wait to see,” Lex said, smiling and excited. She'd been about to say more but stopped, following her other friend’s gazes to see four figures coming in their direction across the square.

There was a brief moment where everyone fell still, but a second later pandemonium reigned with everyone rushing forward, hugging, and talking all at once. Casey had knelt down to fuss over Ron while the young man said to Lily, “Mom! I thought you said the Aunties were dead!” Kate stood in front of Lily, her hands on the other woman's shoulders, both of them looking into each other's eyes. “The new eye is so beautiful!” Lily exclaimed and Kate replied, “I couldn't have done it without you,” before she hugged the doctor. Lex found herself standing in front of Mr. Chen.

“I'm so very, very glad you could come, Mr. Chen,” Lex said, blinking to hold it back as she felt herself tearing up. “I thought I might never see you again.”

He smiled as he met her gaze. “Lex, how can I ever thank you enough?” he asked in a low tone.

“No need for thanks,” she said, smiling in return. “I'm just so happy you're here.”

And she forced herself to turn away then as Casey came forward to introduce Lou, Lex instead meeting Serena's gaze.

“And you! I've missed having you around so much it's not even funny!” Lex said, moving forward to hug her friend.

“Maybe now that you're going to be living here I can come to some of your shows,” Serena replied, hugging Lex close. “I wanted to come to some when you were in the US, but I was afraid I'd call too much attention to you guys.”

“We'd love to have you, you know,” Lex said as she drew back from their hug a little. “How's everything going at the old place? And with your family's company?”

Serena shrugged. “Well, we got a couple new recruits for the team, but I can't say I think too much of them. Mostly I've been focusing on helping to run the company. I've been out there a couple days a week at least, sometimes more. Your whole idea worked like a charm; John and I got rid of my dad's idiot apprentice in a couple of months of working together. Now the two of us are running the place; my dad went into semi-retirement. He still shows up periodically to stir the pot, but he actually said something to me the other day about the place being really well run these days. For my dad to say anything nice to me is a stretch, so having him actually say something like that...well, it's all due to your idea, so thanks, Lex.”

Lex shook her head in response and hugged her friend again. “I only had the idea; you did the work. Congratulations!”

“Thanks. You know, I'm actually even starting to like it!” Serena laughed.

They looked around to see the rest of the group happily milling about and the immigration official and Rolf standing by. Lex turned to Serena. “Give me a minute and then we can talk more,” she said as she broke off and headed over to the two men standing aside.

They quickly had the immigration official stamp Mr. Chen and Lily's passports before he left, welcoming them both to Belgium. After a moment, Lex raised her voice a little to address everyone.

“I just wanted to introduce Rolf Kaiser to all of you,” she said as she turned towards him for a moment, a smile lighting her face. “He's responsible for making all of this possible, so I wanted to extend my thanks.”

He shook his head quickly. “Not at all, Lex,” he replied, smiling in turn. “We're all very glad to have you here.”

“In order to make everything official, I thought it would make sense to go sign our paperwork, and then we made reservations to celebrate afterwards. I've already had a lawyer review the contract, and he assured me that it's fair and aboveboard, and I've reviewed it myself and I agree. Does that sound good to everyone?” Lex continued, studying the group for a moment to see where everyone stood.

Her original six friends were mostly nodding, along with vocal agreement from Kate and Casey. Lily nodded once, looking a bit grim and resolute, and Mr. Chen smiled.

“Let's go, Lex,” he said.

Serena turned to her as the knot of people began to collect in order to move off. “I should probably say goodbye here. I'd love to come along to see how they do things on this side of the water, but I actually have some stuff to do back in the States.”

Lex hugged her again and took a piece of paper from her pocket. “Thanks again so much for doing this,” she said, handing the paper to Serena. “Keep this with your special clothes in the locker. These are our phone numbers here. As soon as we have a permanent address I'll get that to you, as well. We'll expect you to be visiting pretty frequently, OK?”

Smiling as she pocketed the note, Serena replied, “Yeah, of course I will. I'm sure I'll need to get more advice from you eventually, plus it's been ages since we've gone clubbing.”

Everyone converged around Serena then, voicing their thanks. “All of you are embarrassing me,” she said with a laugh as she waved a hand in front of her face. “If you want to thank me, though, just stand around me for another minute while I go so that I don't have to find another alley.” She waved to them moments later, just before she vanished.

As they covered the few blocks to the government offices, Lex could hear the knots of walkers talking back and forth about news from home. Mr. Chen had been working with some of the new recruits at the M Agency, George having become disinterested in his training shortly after Casey and Lex had disappeared.

“The official news was that you three had died,” Mr. Chen confirmed, replying to Casey's question. “However, rumors kept flying around because of what George had said. Of course, most people thought he was perhaps...mistaken, but no one could ever be sure.”

At that point, Lex's ears picked up on Lily's response to Riss' question about how things were at the M Agency with anyone they'd known. “Well, you've talked to Serena, so you probably don't need any more news about her, but Joan's still working there. I guess you could say she's still officially working there, but she isn't around much. I think she's over at the base nearby a lot.”

The talking quieted once they entered the building, and everyone fell silent by the time they reached the offices on the third floor. Rolf approached and let the man at the front desk know their purpose, and then everyone followed as he led them to an inner conference room where a man in a suit sat at the far side of a long table, obviously waiting for them. He rose and introduced himself as the lawyer who'd drawn up the contract, then handed the paperwork across the table.

Lex briefly reviewed it against the set of dog-eared papers she'd been carrying in her coat pocket and confirmed that the contract seemed unchanged save for the addition of Lily, Ron, and Mr. Chen's names. After she nodded and handed the contract back to the lawyer, he indicated several places where the document should be initialed, which Lex did, and then where all of them should sign at the end.

After all eight of them had signed and the papers had been handed back to the lawyer, he straightened the papers and smiled at them. “Thank you, and welcome to the EU and the special forces. Your new passports and identity paperwork will be taken care of through the special forces, and Rolf will probably be the one to deliver everything to you. Do you have any other questions for me at this time?”

Everyone exchanged glances, but no one spoke. Finally, Lex ventured, “No, I think we're all right. Anyone have anything to ask?”

After watching the group shake their heads, the lawyer nodded, packed the papers into his briefcase, and wished them all a good day before he left the conference room. The group looked at one another across the table for a moment until Casey finally broke out laughing.

“I know, it seems so underwhelming after all we did to get here,” Kate agreed, starting to laugh as well.

“All right, everyone,” Lex said, chuckling, “how about some food to celebrate?”

The afternoon had been wearing on and the weather had gotten steadily colder by the time the group made it back out to the street. However, the hotel they'd chosen stood only several blocks away, and the place they had planned to eat at was on the ground floor of the same building.

Rolf tried to excuse himself on the way there. “It's been wonderful meeting your companions, but I should probably get back to work. There are a few things I should take care of this afternoon.”

“You know we'd love to have you with us,” Lex said, feeling shy and not wanting to press him.

“Oh, come on,” Kate said, suddenly appearing on his other side. “We owe you, you know. I'm sure you could take off another hour or so and no one would notice. Besides, I still want to ask you what you can do; Lex said she told you everything about us, so I want to hear about you.”

“Come on,” Casey said, turning back to shoot a smile at him over her shoulder. “It'll be fun. If we're going to be on a team with you, we should probably get to know each other better, anyway.”

“All right,” Rolf finally said with a small smile. “I'll make a call when we get there to let them know where I am, and if they give me permission, I'll stay.”

Once the group had arrived and been seated, Rolf rejoined them. “No problem,” he said as he slid into the only empty seat, between Lex and Kate. He gave Lex a private smile before turning to answer Kate's questions.

Flurries of activity and noise occurred as waiters came to take orders and deliver food and drinks, but an overall hum of discussion and conversation continued as everyone caught up and made plans for what was to come next. At some point during the middle of dinner, Lex looked around the table to see Victor and Riss deep in discussion about something technical with Kate listening intently and occasionally asking questions; Lily, Casey, and Ron all talked quietly together while Mr. Chen and Lou spoke quietly but fervently about martial arts. Lex felt herself smiling widely and realized Rolf had noticed as she turned back to her own plate.

“It seems like you're glad to have everyone back together,” Rolf said quietly to her, surveying the table as he did.

“I can't even tell you how glad,” Lex replied, smiling at him once his glance came back to her. “I feel like I can relax for the first time in a really long time.”

Kate broke into what they'd been saying then to ask some questions about the new facilities, and Lex just smiled as she turned to join Lou and Mr. Chen's conversation about martial arts. Having never taken lessons, Lou seemed fascinated by the topic, so she found she had a lot to say.

Later that evening, small knots of people left the restaurant together to make their way into the hotel proper. Lex walked with Lily and Rolf, talking to Lily but watching Rolf, who now had his coat on, ready to go.

“Riss took care of transferring your money over here, but you may want to wait until your new IDs come in so that you can verify your personal information and officially open your account, get an ATM card, and all that. We have some cash you can use in the meantime, enough for the three of you to rent a place until we get back–”

“Excuse me for interrupting,” Rolf said quietly, and Lex turned to him as he started speaking. “I just wanted to mention that the three of you are welcome to stay at the local special forces headquarters until all of you find a place. There's always room for people to stay on the grounds, but a lot of people live somewhere else in the city. It's open for you to use, however, if you like.”

After a short conference between Lily and Mr. Chen, who'd been trailing behind the three of them, Lily turned back to Lex and Rolf. “I think that would be fine. That way we can take our time to find someplace permanent, like Lou and Casey have been talking about.”

Lex turned to Rolf. “That's true, I know that they'd like to find a place, and I think a number of the rest of us would, too. Do you think that's reasonable to do?”

He nodded in response. “Yes, when a station is decided upon they are more or less permanent, unless the special forces member expresses an interest in moving around. I can confirm that for you, however.”

“That would be great,” Lex said, giving him a big smile. “Thanks so much for your help with everything.”

That evening, nobody seemed to get much sleep with all of the running back and forth between rooms and long discussions, but everyone still came to see the band off at the train station late the next morning. Casey, Lou, Victor, Kate, Riss, and Lex made sure to say goodbye to the three newcomers and their liaison, all four of whom stood near the train.

“I'm really sorry we can't stay,” Lex said to Mr. Chen for the fourth time. “You are absolutely welcome to come on tour with us, but it can be sort of a pain, especially if you aren't performing.”

He shook his head and smiled. “I think I should stay here and get started with work. I'm very interested to see the people we'll be working with here, especially since we're not being forced to. I especially like this liaison of ours,” he concluded, and there was definitely a sparkle in his eye as he met Lex's gaze.

“I'm glad to hear it,” she replied, feeling the burn of a blush on her cheeks. “Take good care of yourselves. We've got about two weeks off around the holidays, so we'll come home then, but we'll be back for good by the end of March.”

“I know, Lex; have a good trip,” Mr. Chen said, patting her shoulder.

The last person she said goodbye to was Rolf. They stood near to each other but not touching, as if that last inch might bring something unexpected. “I can't thank you enough for everything, Rolf.”

“Really, it was my pleasure, and I'm glad it all worked out well.” He paused for a moment, looked her in the eye, and then looked away. “You know, now that everything's worked out, you can still call me.”

“I will,” Lex said, also not able to meet his gaze. “I'm sorry to hear you won't be around during the holidays, but I'm looking forward to dinner once the tour's over.”

“So am I,” Rolf replied, taking her hand in both of his, squeezing once quickly before letting her go. “You'd better get going, though, since the train's about to leave.”

She met his eyes then and smiled, then waved to everyone as she got on the train with the rest of the band. They all waved again as the compartment passed by their friends on the platform. As the train left the station and really got underway, silence fell in the small room and a sudden wave of exhaustion hit Lex. She sighed contentedly as she stretched her neck out, allowing her head to rest on the cushion behind her.

“Can't believe we did it,” she murmured, mostly to herself, but Casey, sitting across the compartment, must have heard.

“I can't believe you're going out on a date,” she replied, laughing as she saw the look on Lex's face.

“Oh, shut up, you,” Lex said without heat, laughing along with everyone else as a number of the rest of the people in the compartment broke out into chuckles or giggles. The miles seemed to dissolve away into nothing as the six of them continued to discuss their plans for the future.

Forward to Chapter 36
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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I guess it was lucky Serena must have been to Europe before - and no imits on her range!

What I figure they did with her was send her all over the world so she could get to wherever she needed to. So, she's a really good person to have on your side if you need an extraction from anywhere to just about anywhere else. Thanks for coming to read and comment!

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