Chapter 28: Novel

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“Guess what, guys?” Lex asked as she bounded down the stairs and into the dining area. “They're going to come and live with us.”

Casey laughed and clapped her hands while Riss and Lou smiled at her over their coffee cups. “I had a feeling they would,” Casey replied with a smile of her own. “When do they want us to come and get them?”

“A week from today, Kate said. She said they wouldn't have much to bring and that they could travel by bus, but I told them they could forget that,” Lex replied, returning everyone's smiles. “I don't know, though. She sounded mad; she didn't really go into it, but I got the impression that Victor had already made up his mind and had to convince her it was a good idea.”

“What do you mean?” Riss asked, fixing Lex with a curious gaze.

“She said that he didn't tell her right away, but he started closing his shop down as soon as they got back. I guess he just worked on her in the meantime, and that's why it'll take them a week to get things ready to go. He has to return all the broken and fixed items in his shop to their owners.” Lex said, looking down and feeling confused as to why Kate hadn't wanted to move in, but shrugged it off, since her friends would be coming.

Turning to Casey, Lex asked, “So, do you think we should put off our next tour until we can convince Kate to join the band? She did say she'd been practicing on the one her old boyfriend left behind.”

Casey smiled broadly in response. “That might be the best way to go even if she doesn't join. I'd started setting up a few places earlier than that but I can call them back to reschedule. Maybe a month and then go on a short tour?”

Lex looked at the other band members to see what they thought. Riss shrugged and nodded. Lou gave Lex a thoughtful look, then asked, “Do you know if Kate's ever been in a band before?”

Raising her eyebrows, Lex shook her head. “That's a good point. Maybe a month and a half before we plan to go on tour then? And maybe something local a week or two before that to get her used to it?”

Lou nodded as he looked at Casey, who nodded in return. Lex grinned madly then as something occurred to her. “You know, we're going to be the most badass moving crew ever.”

When they pulled up in front of the address they'd been given a week later, however, Lex just felt sad. The neighborhood, a suburb of Los Angeles, didn't look too bad as far as the buildings went, but all around them there were the signs of grinding poverty – the battered looking vehicles parked on the street, the large cluster of people in ill-fitting or worn out clothing waiting for the bus, the open stares their well-kept van got. When she saw Kate and Victor coming out to meet them, though, Lex had to smile.

“Stop bouncing up and down in the seat,” Riss said, but when Lex looked over, she could see Riss trying not to laugh.

Lex did laugh as she got out of the van. “Come on, let's get to work.”

Lou followed Victor and Kate's advice to stay with the van, but even then it didn't take long to clean the apartment out. “Not much of the furniture is ours,” Kate said with a shrug. “Just this table, these couple of chairs, and those boxes are ours.”

It took about a half-hour for everyone to load Kate and Victor's belongings into the van. “Is there anything else we need to do?” Lex asked Kate, eyeing the mostly empty apartment.

“Yeah,” Kate replied as the two of them went out into the hall. “I need to return these keys.”

Lex followed her friend to the basement and waited as she knocked on a door, talked briefly with an older woman, and then they left.

“Nice lady that runs the place, but she probably should have stopped working when she was sixty. She's seventy now.” Kate shook her head.

Lex fell silent as she followed her friend outside. The sun peeking through clouds seemed like good luck, however, and Lex looked over to see Kate grin at it. “Come on,” Kate urged Lex, “let's get out of here before anyone gets any ideas about the van.”

The drive home felt lively at first, with Lex and Kate singing to some of the tunes that came on the radio, but after a couple of hours, Lex was sitting leaning against one window with Kate fast asleep, leaning on her shoulder. She'd been watching the scenery go by for a while before she looked back into the van to notice that Victor was watching Kate, some concern on his face. When he noticed Lex looking at him, he gazed up at her with a look that was hard to interpret. Lex smiled back at him.

“I'm really glad the two of you decided to come and live with us,” she said quietly, trying not to disturb Kate.

Victor gave a small, genuine looking smile in return. “We're glad, too,” he replied.

Settling Kate and Victor into their rooms and the rest of the house didn't take long. The next day the group decided, at Riss' insistence, to tackle the ID situation. Riss sighed as she looked at the drivers' licenses the new arrivals had handed over to her.

“I'm guessing you bought these on the street somewhere,” Riss said, flipping one and then the other over as if she couldn't quite believe what she saw.

Kate shrugged, looking at the floor as she nodded. “Beggars can't be choosers, I guess,” she said in a low tone.

Riss shook her head as she looked up again. “I didn't mean it as an insult, Kate, I was just thinking that people will try to get away with anything these days. Give me an hour and then we can go downtown and get you two fixed up. Pick some new names, too, please, so that we can start you both fresh.”

Victor and Kate looked at one another, Kate with a raised eyebrow while Lex nodded in, she hoped, an encouraging way. Riss turned her laptop around moments later. “Here's a name database, in case you need some inspiration.”

After they'd picked their new names out and gave them to Riss, she turned the laptop back her way. “Rose Lewis and Peter Pombo. Pretty solid, but I notice you've kept your former first names as middles.”

Kate shrugged, throwing a glance at Victor. “We thought it made sense, since I don't think we're going to stop calling each other what we always have.”

Riss nodded as she collected her laptop. “You're probably right; the rest of us did something similar, as well.”

“So,” Kate asked as she watched Riss head to her room, “what's she going to do?”

“Well,” Lex answered, “she'll cause everything to get created for you – birth certificate, social security number, everything. No one will be able to tell the difference, because all your IDs will come from the people who normally issue them.”

“She's that good, huh?” Kate was silent for a moment, considering. “She must have kept most of what she could do under wraps, didn't she?”

“Pretty much,” Lex agreed. “We're lucky she's not stuck in the labs.”

The weather seemed pleasant for late summer as they made their way to the DMV offices, not as hot as it had been the previous week. Lex, Kate, Victor, and Casey sat there for fifteen minutes or so, conversing in murmurs as Riss typed furiously into the laptop she'd brought with her for a few minutes, scrolled through a number of screens, and then nodded.

Riss looked at Victor and Kate before she leaned over to whisper to them. “Your data is in the computers now. Just wait until the person taking photos calls you,” she finished, sitting back into her chair and fiddling with the laptop again.

Kate looked at Lex, who shrugged and nodded. Five minutes later, the person at the photo counter called Victor's new name. Victor smiled at the women and got up to move over to the counter. About ten minutes after that they called for Kate. Giving Lex a big grin, the other woman went up to get her picture taken.

As Lex watched, however, waiting for her friend to get her photo taken, she felt her stomach clench, as she watched Kate and the woman taking the photos begin a discussion that seemed to turn into an argument. They argued for a minute or two, until Kate turned towards the wall and gestured the woman to come nearer.

Suddenly, the woman who'd been taking the photos ran for the back room with her hands over her mouth. She nearly ran into a man who'd been coming out of the door, and he just looked after her, stunned. Lex watched as Kate finished adjusting her eye patch, then sat in the photo chair and waited. After ten minutes, a different woman came out from the back room and took Kate's picture.

“Finally,” Kate said as she came back to the chairs where all her friends were waiting. Victor's new license had been finished some time before, and both he and Lex fixed Kate with anxious glances as she sat heavily in a chair near them. Kate busied herself by looking out the window, however, avoiding her friends' eyes.

They all fell silent until Kate's name was called, and once her license was ready, made their way back home. Lex tried to catch Victor's eye along the way, but he wouldn't return her look for some reason. Finally Lex just sighed and tried to put the incident out of her mind.

Over the next few days the group of them had settled into a routine much like the one that Casey, Lex, Riss, and Lou had become used to before the other two had arrived. Lou and Casey usually woke earlier than everyone else, followed by Lex and Kate. Victor usually followed and Riss invariably woke last. The four early risers usually worked out after they awoke and the group would then eat breakfast together afterward. From late morning to sometime in the afternoon the band members practiced while Victor tested the sound equipment or recorded them while Casey researched show venues. Everything had been going well with working Kate into the existing songs, and they had even recorded a new song that all four of them had written together.

One morning, however, Lex came into the main room from the gym sometime after she'd become used to Kate joining them. She noticed that it seemed someone was in the big bathroom downstairs and knocked.

“Hey, Kate! Are you in there? I was wondering if you were coming to work out with us this morning,” Lex called, then waited for an answer, but there was no sound from behind the door.

When she tried the door, she found that it stood ajar, so Lex slowly opened the door. “Kate? Are you in here?” she asked. Still hearing nothing, Lex opened the door wide enough to enter the room and walked in. Lex gulped in a big breath as she saw Kate's body sprawled on the floor. Her friend lay in the robe she usually wore in the mornings, and Lex felt herself start to tremble as she saw a trickle of blood near her friend's head.

“Kate,” she almost whispered, kneeling near the other woman. Lex could see now that Kate had her eye patch off, and she took in a sharp breath of air as she saw Kate's eye socket. She'd expected to see something like the injury Kate had described, looking as if someone had poked a hole into her eye and then cooked it like an egg, but what she saw looked like the entire socket was empty. It looked red and angry, as if infected, with a blood trail coming from the socket. Blinking against her tears as she tried to focus, Lex grabbed for a clean towel and wet it. She used it to gently clean along Kate's hair, face, and eye socket.

“Your poor eye,” she remembered whispering at one point, and then Lex gasped as she distinctly saw something move within the empty socket. Looking more closely, she saw the flesh pulse again and sighed, closing her eyes. She finished cleaning up Kate's face and then grabbed another towel to put under her friend's head. Quickly, Lex ran to the gym to get Casey.

“Hey,” she said, leaning in to get her friend's attention, “I need your help to carry something, Casey. Lou, can you come to talk to us in five minutes in the kitchen?”

He looked at Lex with a quirked eyebrow, then at Casey. The two nodded at one another, and then Lou answered. “Sure, I'll see you then.”

“So, what's this about?” Casey asked as she followed her friend into the next room.

“Kate's collapsed. There's something wrong with her injured eye. It looks infected or something. It actually looked like the flesh in there was moving when I looked at it,” Lex said, looking up at Casey.

Casey stopped walking for a moment and looked down at Lex. “Pulsing, kind of?” she asked. Lex thought about it a moment, then nodded. Casey looked away from her friend, then continued walking towards the main room. “Yeah, that's what Lily said they called it at the lab. It's normal for people that they've given the 'treatments' to. It happened to you a lot while you were sick. Your neck and face, especially,” Casey said, her voice uncertain.

Lex grabbed her friend's hand and said, “Don't you worry about this. Everything's going to be fine. OK?”

Casey gave Lex's hand a gentle squeeze in return before letting go with a sigh. “Everything will be fine,”
she repeated, her tone of voice not convincing.

Casey lifted Kate into her arms carefully, making it appear as if the other woman weighed nothing. When the two came out of the bathroom, Lex spotted Victor on the stairs. His face went pale as he saw who Casey carried.

“We're all going to talk in the kitchen, in a few minutes,” Lex said as she and Casey moved past him on the stairs.

Victor just nodded, then mutely followed the two women back upstairs into Kate's room. Lex could feel his eyes on her as Casey put Kate back into bed and Lex tucked the covers in around her friend, shut the blinds, then fiddled with the glass of water by the bed, touched Kate's forehead, and sighed, looking up at Casey. Casey nodded as all three of them left Kate's room.

Riss had emerged from her room as the three of them came out into the hall, and gave them a look with one eyebrow raised high. Lex gestured with her head for Riss to follow as the three of them headed back downstairs. Lou was already in the kitchen making a pot of coffee, and quietly watched them come down to the main room.

When they all sat around the table some time later, some looked at Lex, while others tried to catch Victor's eye.

“Why don't you start this out, since you found her?” Casey asked Lex. Riss and Lou's eyes both flew to her, and then fixed on Lex. She sighed and then explained to everyone at the table what had happened.

“I was hoping that Victor could shed some light on what's going on,” Lex finished, her eyes turning to the man in question.

He'd been staring down at his hands, but looked up and around the table before he started talking. “I would have said something sooner, but Kate made me promise not to tell you.”

“Since we already know now, you're not breaking a confidence,” Lex replied. “Could you tell us what you know?”

He sighed, then continued talking. “I don't know exactly when it started, because I had to find out by accident. I figure it wasn't long after we got away, though, because I noticed that she'd never take the eye patch off anymore and she seemed grumpier than she used to be most of the time. I caught her once with it off and saw that it looked like it had been infected. I told her to go to a doctor, but she wouldn't. She wouldn't talk about it, either, but I got the impression that something scared her. I know it hurt her because she'd go through these huge bottles of aspirin in a couple of weeks. At first, I could tell she didn't want to come here because she thought you wouldn't want her because of this, but then she changed her mind. I'm not sure, but I think she started thinking, I don't know, that she didn't want to leave me alone.”

Lex stared at Victor as he spoke, letting his words sink in. After his last couple of sentences she'd gazed over at Casey to see an upset look in her eye. Lou had reached over the table to grab her hand, though, and Casey gave him a little smile in return as Lex watched.

“She's not going to die,” Lex said, the sound of her own voice surprising her. “I didn't die, and neither will she. We've just got to figure out what to do.”

Closing her eyes for a moment, Lex just stopped to think. After a moment, her eyes popped back open.

“Riss,” she began, turning to look at her friend, “I know you said that you wiped out the records at the lab we broke into to find Lou, but I was wondering, do you think you could look at whatever's there now and see if you can find Kate's records? I don't know if they'd help much, but at least it could be a start.”

“I could probably get back in there if I wanted to,” Riss said with a shrug and the ghost of a grin. “But, I don't think there'd be much reason, since I still have all of that information, even though they don't.”

Lex knew her mouth had dropped open. “Riss, I don't believe you!” she said, shaking her head and looking at the other woman with a little smile. “In that case, could you see if you have Kate's records in the data you have?”

Riss smiled a little more broadly. “It'll take me a little while to figure out what's in there, since I haven't looked at it since we got it, but I'll search for them.”

Nodding, Lex looked at the other three at the table. “Now all we have to figure out is how to get some help for Kate-”

“Stop talking about me like I'm not here,” a voice broke in from the stairs.

Everyone turned quickly to see Kate, in jeans and a t-shirt and with her eye patch back on, walking down the stairs, focusing on the steps under her feet and clutching the hand rail. Lex heard her chair hit the ground somewhere behind her as she realized she'd leapt to her feet.

“Kate! How are you feeling?” she asked, happy that her friend was up and about, but not sure what to do next.

Victor had moved over to the stairs before anyone else, and proceeded to take Kate's arm and lead her to the empty chair at the dining table. Kate had given him a hard stare as he'd done so, but he didn't even turn his head to meet her eye. Once Kate sat, she looked down at the table as everyone else around it directed their gazes at her.

“Would you all stop,” she mumbled, appearing both grumpy and sheepish at the same time.

“Sure,” Lex said, reaching across the table to grab her friend's hand. Kate looked up at her as their hands touched. “As long as you tell us what's been going on with you.”

When Kate looked back down and shook her head a little, Lex squeezed her hand once before continuing. “Kate, we're together now. If you have a problem, we need you to tell us. We all have to be honest with one another if this is going to work. All right?”

“OK, already,” Kate agreed, rubbing the back of her head with her free hand. “You sure are pushy,” she continued, looking up at Lex with a small grin.

“Yeah,” Lex said, grinning back, “so you better come clean before I have to start pushing again.”

“Fuck,” Kate said, taking her hand back so she could rub at her eye. “There's not all that much to say, really. Not long after Victor and I left, my eye started getting weird. At first I thought I had some sort of infection, so I tried every kind of disinfectant I could find in the drug store, but then I realized that it didn't seem natural. I saw something move in there, and then the flesh started being eaten away.”

Kate stopped for a moment, the look on her face grave as she glanced in the general direction of the others without looking anyone in the eye.

“Yeah,” Casey spoke up, “that sort of thing is common for someone who's had the drug regimens that we all had. The people at the lab called it 'pulsing', Lily told us.”

Looking up at Casey in surprise, Kate opened her mouth a moment before any words came out. “Thank goodness. I couldn't figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I thought maybe it was some exotic parasite I caught at one of the odd locations I'd been to. I thought about the experimental medications, but then I figured it couldn't be, since the only problem I seem to be having is with my eye.”

“There's a note in your file here theorizing that any change you'd undergo might focus on your eye since it was already...'compromised' is the way they put it,” Riss said dryly, one eyebrow raised.

“You found it!” Lex said with a big smile.

“Yes. It looks like they had her on the brain drugs,” Riss replied with a crisp nod. “There was a big argument about whether she had brain or body-based powers, so it was a while before they figured out what they wanted to give her.”

Lex glanced at Kate and Victor, who both looked confused. “We'll explain more about that later, but for now, it's an explanation about why the changes you experienced have centered in your head. Has it been getting better or worse, Kate, or has it stayed about the same?”

Kate shook her head while she closed her eyes. “Every day it seems worse. The hole in my head has continued to get bigger, and every couple of days I have these awful headaches. I'm worried it's eating into my brain.”

“Riss,” Lex said, turning to look at her friend, “do you have any way to contact Serena?”

Shrugging, Riss began typing. “Maybe. We'll try e-mail contact, like the kind we used before. I can find out when she usually checks her mail, so hopefully we'll get lucky over the next couple of days. What do you want to say?”

“Please ask her to go to Union Station and shop for a new outfit, then put it on and leave her old one and her purse with everything else she brought with her in a locker. Then ask her to come to Phoenix. If she wants to come, ask her to write back and tell us when and where to meet her. OK?” Lex looked at Riss to see what she thought.

Riss smiled back. “Let's give it a try.”

“We're going to get you some help,” Lex said, turning back to look at Kate. “It may take a little while to get everything arranged, but we'll work it out.”

Kate nodded, but still looked a little confused. “Why are you getting touch with Serena, though? And how?”

Lex looked over at Riss, who quickly explained how she was able to use e-mail to contact people without a trace. After that, Lex chimed in, “As far as getting in touch with Serena, it's going to have to start with her. We won't be able to make it work without her help.”

Kate nodded and looked back at Lex. “I'll leave it up to you, then,” she said, and Lex noticed that a tension that Kate seemed to have carried since she first saw her friend again seemed to have dissipated.

Nodding back, Lex spoke again. “Good, don't worry about it any more, then. And let us know if you need more rest or anything, OK? We don't have to practice for so long every day, for example. There's no rush.”

“Now don't you start treating me like an invalid or anything,” Kate almost growled. “Most of the time I'm fine, but I'll tell you from now on if I start feeling bad, OK?”

“OK,” Lex said, looking at her friend seriously. “No more collapsing in the bathroom, all right?”

Kate snickered. “I'll do my best, Lex, but I can't make any promises.”

Lex rolled her eyes and shook her head, trying not to join Kate's laughter. She looked around the table after a moment, noting that Victor also looked considerably more relaxed now, and that Casey appeared to have calmed down, too.

“So, how about some breakfast?” Casey asked, getting up from her chair after giving Lou's hand a final squeeze. “Does anybody feel like pancakes?”

Over the next few days, the group had changed their rehearsal schedule, trying to hold it down to a few hours a day so that Kate didn't get overstressed. Kate had grumbled about it, but finally accepted the decision without too much argument, probably because she realized it was a good idea. Kate had begun taking naps in the afternoon, Lex had noted, and she seemed as if she felt better overall.

Three days after the initial discussion, Riss came running down the stairs with a laptop late in the morning. Lex had been working on her part of a song on the keyboard and Casey was in the kitchen puttering around. Both of them looked to Riss expectantly.

“It's Serena. She's going to meet us in an hour in front of a coffee shop in the middle of town. I have the address here,” Riss said, bringing her laptop over to the kitchen counter and writing it down on a nearby pad of paper.

“Kate is napping and Victor's in the middle of working on a project,” Lex said, thinking aloud. “Casey, do you want to check with Lou to see if he wants to come along?”

The taller woman nodded as she headed out of the main room for the gym. When she came back a minute later, she shook her head. “He said that he'd just meet her once we got back here,” Casey relayed with a shrug. “So, are you two both going?”

Lex and Riss both nodded as Casey smiled in return. “OK, I'll get the keys and let's get going.”

Casey found a decent parking spot not far from the shop, but they'd arrived early, so the three of them waited in the van. Lex found herself fidgeting, looking over her shoulder to the shop a yard behind them. Riss' attention had been consumed by her laptop and Casey fiddled with the radio station in the van, trying to find something that appealed to her.

“Don't worry, she'll be here,” Casey said to Lex without looking up.

Sighing, Lex looked over at her friend. “I know, I know. I just didn't realize how much I missed her until I thought about seeing her again. Now I can hardly wait.”

Casey smiled and continued turning the dial. “I know what you mean. It'll be nice to see her again.”

Lex almost replied, but then her breath stuck in her throat a moment as she saw Serena stepping out of an alley beside the coffee shop. Her friend wore a black mini dress with a high collar and small black sandals. Serena's curly red hair hung long behind her as she turned to look up and down the sidewalk, brushing her locks over one shoulder.

A breath later, Lex found herself out of the van and bolting down the sidewalk. She'd flung her arms around her friend in a fierce hug before Lex realized that Serena might not recognize her, so she pulled back. Serena's arms had ended up on Lex's hips, but she gazed at Lex in surprise. As soon as Serena saw Lex's face, however, she began to blink as slow recognition spread across her face.

“Lex?” Serena said, more of a question than a statement.

“Sorry,” Lex replied as she nodded assent. “I forgot that I don't exactly look the same anymore.”

Then, Serena hugged her tightly enough that Lex gasped in surprise. “Lex, I thought I'd never see you again!” The redhead pulled back a little, taking Lex's hands in hers in order to take a better look at the other woman. “You look really hot! Is this your-” Serena stopped a moment, looking all around them theatrically before leaning in to whisper in Lex's ear, “disguise?”

Lex angled her face towards the ground as she felt a sudden heat in her face. “Come on,” she said, hauling on one of Serena's hands to the direction of the van. “I'll explain everything along the way, or once we get back home. How long do you think you can stay away without being noticed?”

Serena made a face and rolled her eyes. “Probably all afternoon. They've been pretty much ignoring me unless they send me on some kind of trip so that I can have the majority of the spots on the Earth memorized.”

“We probably shouldn't keep you that long, especially since you'll have to go back home via Union Station tonight. How about we explain everything over lunch?” Lex said as the two of them stepped into the van.

Riss had moved into the front passenger seat, but Casey captured Serena's immediate focus.

“Oh my god, your hair!” Serena exclaimed, her hand flying to Casey's now black hair.

Casey just smiled. “It's good to see you too, Serena.”

Serena cocked her head as she looked the taller woman over for a moment, and then hugged her. “I didn't think it was possible, but I think you look even hotter as a brunette,” Serena said with a smirk and raised eyebrows.

Casey snorted a laugh as she turned back to the steering wheel and started the van. “All right, all right, enough of that.”

Lex tried not to laugh as she saw her friend's ears turn pink. Serena put her hand on Riss' shoulder before she sat down next to Lex.

“It's good to see you again too, Riss,” Serena said, smiling.

“Likewise,” Riss replied with a little smile before she turned back to her laptop.

Serena turned to Lex and put a hand on her arm. “I don't think I've ever seen her smile before! You all must be having a good time on the run.”

Lex rubbed the back of her head and laughed. “Well, a lot's happened, that's for sure. I'll explain as best I can, and then, as you probably guessed, we're going to ask for your help with something.”

The smile Serena gave in return was huge. “I'll do what I can.”

“Let me tell you what's going on first, at least!” Lex said with a laugh.

“No,” Serena said, suddenly looking very serious. “Start by telling me what happened when you guys left. I knew you'd planned something, but my stomach nearly fell out when the building started collapsing and you were still in it. I was worried you really were dead until George showed up an hour or so later, dried blood on his jaw, yelling about how you'd gotten away. Of course, I still had to act upset when they sent about a million people down to the sewers to check and they never found you, since the last place they could track you to was the burning building. I really figured I'd never see you guys again! It's been so boring without you! They got a couple of replacements, but they're both ex-military people, kind of like Joan. None of them have any sense of humor, even when I hit on them. And believe me, I'm only doing it as a joke,” Serena finished, rolling her eyes.

Casey glanced back at Serena in the rear view mirror, her eyes flicking over and then away as she bowed her head. Lex turned to her friend and squeezed her hand. “I'm really sorry, Serena. We should have kept you in the loop to let you know what we planned, but I think we figured it would be safer for you the less we involved you. As far as the story, I'll start at the beginning.”

Lex relayed how they'd escaped, starting with their encounter with George in the sewer. Serena nearly jumped out of her seat as she heard how Casey had handled the situation.

“I would have paid to see that! The asshole looked like he'd gotten hit on the head or something when he got back. Everyone seemed to think he was lying or concussed. I felt so relieved, though, since I figured you'd gotten away. Before that I'd been sure you'd been dead, and I'd been crying, so, I decided to play it up. I yelled at George and said that he was only claiming crazy things because he hated you so much, Casey. I told him to shut his lying face, that those were my friends who were gone, and that if he didn't shut up, that I'd fix it so that something big and heavy appeared in the middle of his stupid head.”

Casey's eyes in the rear view mirror had gone wide, and Lex knew her mouth had fallen open as she looked at Serena. “Thanks for covering for us, Serena,” Lex said when she could get her thoughts together enough to speak again.

“Hell yes!” she said, smiling again. “I'd cover for any woman against that monster, but most of all you guys.”

Lex continued with the story, having to pause again when she got around to telling about her illness. “I was out of it for about a month. Casey, do you or Riss want to add anything?”

Riss said a muffled “no” from the front while Casey added a little more. “No. It sucked. I'm trying to forget about it.”

“What Casey isn't saying,” Lex continued, more quietly, “is how I nearly died a couple of times. I wouldn't be here talking to you now if it weren't for her. Well, for her and Lily, but mostly because of Casey. And when I woke up, this is how I looked. Well, I dyed my hair, but it doesn't have any pigment of its own anymore – it's just white.”

Serena just looked at her for a moment, then smoothed Lex's hair down. “Wow. So that's your real eye color now? It's beautiful; I've never seen anything like it!”

Lex smiled, feeling shy, and ducked her head. After a moment, she continued and had gotten halfway through telling Serena about going out to the lab to get Lou back when they arrived back home.

“Come on in,” Casey said as she got out of the van. All four of them went into the old warehouse, Serena looking at everything with great interest.

“Holy crap!” she said once they'd reached the main room and she spun around to look at everything. “This place is great!”

“This is only the main room,” Casey said with a proprietary smile. “You haven't even seen any of the others yet.”

Suddenly the group went silent as Lou came out of the gym and into the main room. Serena looked him up and down and then glanced at Casey, who'd stepped forward to meet him.

“Lou,” Casey said while linking their hands, “this is Serena, our old teammate. Serena, this is my boyfriend Lou.”

“I can definitely see why you weren't going to leave him behind!” Serena said with a wide smile. “I don't suppose you two ever considered having a third person join you sometimes?”

Casey blushed, and Lou smiled as he saw it. “No, we're monogamous, but thanks for asking,” Lou said, nodding at Serena. “Casey's told me a lot about you. It's nice to finally meet you.”

“Oh, she's probably told you I had a huge crush on her since the time she joined the team,” Serena said with a sigh. “You two look very happy together, though, and I can totally respect that. But, Lex,” she said, turning back to her friend, “you were in the middle of talking about how you all got Lou back. Don't stop now!”

“I'm going to make some tea while that's going on,” Casey said, detouring for the kitchen while the others sat at the dining table. “Raise your hands if you want any.”

Lex continued, and everyone else added bits they felt she'd left out. After Lex got to the part where they drove away, Serena just shook her head.

“That's just amazing,” Serena said, grinning. “I had no idea that's what they were doing. I can hardly believe you just broke them all out, and got Lou back, too. You all are just amazing.”

“What's all the noise down here?” a new voice cut in.

Everyone looked up at the stairs as Kate walked down, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Everyone nodded or waved, but Serena stood up from her chair, a stunned look on her face. Lex glanced at Serena for a moment, then touched her hand.

“We hadn't gotten to that part of the story yet,” she said as Serena looked down at her, surprise still evident.

Kate walked up to Serena and smiled. “I'm glad you came. I wondered if you'd get the message.”

Serena recovered enough to speak as she grabbed Kate's hand. “Of course I came. I didn't think I'd ever see these guys again, much less you. Is Victor here, too?”

Kate nodded, gesturing to a room off the main one. “Yeah, he is here. He's in the middle of one of his big projects, but he'll probably come out later.”

Serena studied her old teammates for a moment. “How the hell did you manage all this?”

Casey smiled broadly. “You'll have to ask Lex about that,” she said.

Lex glared at Casey for a moment, then relayed what the four of them had been up to since they left, and how they'd arranged to meet up with Kate and Victor.

“I've got to see what you can do now!” Serena said once Lex had finished, shaking her friend's arm and smiling. “Come on, show me.”

“What do you want to see, exactly?” Lex asked dubiously.

“How did you call to Kate and Victor?” Serena replied, waving her hands around in big arcs.

Lex sighed. “All right, hang on.”

She cleared her throat once after a sip of tea and then began to sing one of the new songs the band had been working on. After the first verse, Lex inserted the idea of being hungry and wanting lunch. After a minute, she stopped singing and looked over at the group.

“I'm really hungry now,” Casey said, smirking.

“I'm starving!” Serena said, looking over at Lex. “Is that what you can do?”

Shrugging, Lex answered. “Well, one of the things. I can make suggestions. If it's something you'd normally do anyway, the idea will probably come through to them as something you want to do.”

“That's really cool!” Serena replied with a laugh. “I wish I could do that sometimes. You know, on a slow night or something,” she finished with a smirk.

Lex couldn't help blushing as the group of them turned to the kitchen as one and Casey began pulling out the makings for lunch. All of them made their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and took chips or fruit to go along with them. Over lunch they caught up with the goings on in DC and what people they knew had been up to. Once she'd finished eating, Serena leaned back in her chair, then raised her eyebrow as if she thought better of it and tried to rearrange the skirt of her short dress to pull it down a little more. Lex couldn't help looking at her friend curiously, and Serena smirked in return.

“You know, I was so excited to get your e-mail that I didn't really have time to shop for a full outfit, just a dress and sandals,” she said, smirking even more as Lex felt her cheeks heat up.

“You mean...” Lex said in a smothered voice then trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought.

“Well, they didn't exactly have a lingerie store there that I saw,” Serena continued, smiling wickedly now.

Lex's eyes went wide and she grabbed Serena's hand. “We'll be upstairs for a couple of minutes,” she told everyone else, turning away as Kate started cracking up.

She glared at Serena when they got up to her room. “I can't believe you told everyone you weren't wearing underwear!” Lex said, then looked at her friend and sighed. “Yeah, well, maybe I guess I can.”

Serena laughed, a rich, long sound. “Hey,” she replied, “I didn't really admit it, I just hinted at it. You came to your own conclusions.”

“Well, am I wrong?” Lex asked, turning back to her friend after having rummaged through her drawers for a moment.

“No,” Serena answered, a wide smile on her face. “I was thinking that maybe I should have gotten a longer dress.”

Lex threw a handful of cloth on her bed, which Serena started poking through. She drew out a pair of string bikini underwear, black with tiny white polka-dots, and looked them over with a nod. “Very nice. I wouldn't have figured you for a string bikini girl, though.”

Now stumped for words, Lex just stared at her friend for a moment. “What?” she finally managed, the word sounding rather strained.

“You know, I would have figured that you wear those briefs or something. I mean, not like granny panties or anything, but-” Serena answered, only to cut off by Lex after she let out an incredulous groan.

“I just bought these and I washed them, but I haven't worn any of them yet, so take your pick. I know I don't have any bras that would fit you, so I guess you'll have to go without on that end,” Lex said, not looking at her friend and knowing that she was blushing probably bright red by now.

“You don't have any thongs or anything, do you?” Serena asked as she sorted through the pile. “I mean, your ass is smaller than mine...”

“No,” Lex said, her voice muffled by the hand now over her face. “Just those, Serena.”

Serena laughed as she picked out a pair and slipped them on, pulling them up under her dress. “I'm sorry, Lex. I just love teasing you, though. You blush so prettily.”

Lex hung her head for a second and shook it, then turned to face her friend again. “Look, there is one thing I wanted to tell you about while we're here, though. I figure it'll be easier to talk about now, without the whole group. Kate is sick the way I was sick when I nearly died those times,” Lex said, watching as Serena turned and looked her in the eye with a concerned expression. “There's nothing we can do to help her, so we need to get Lily here. Obviously, we're going to need your help with that. What do you think?”

“Hell, yes, I'll help out,” Serena said, her face serious now. “Who's going to set things up with Lily?”

“We will, the same way we set things up with you,” Lex answered, returning her friend's serious look. “We just needed to talk to you first, to make sure you could do it.”

“Don't worry,” Serena said, giving a final look at her reflection in Lex's mirror. “I'll do it, no problem. So, you want to go back downstairs before everyone starts to think we're getting it on?”

Lex rolled her eyes and couldn't help blushing again. “Come on,” she said, somehow trying not to laugh as she made her way out the door.

Serena sat with the group for a while, staying long enough to say hi to Victor when he appeared out of his workshop an hour later. She disappeared after memorizing the main room and promising to be back when needed.

Once Serena left, Kate and Casey both fixed Lex with a look. “I didn't see any point to discussing it again when we came down because we talked about it when we were in my room,” Lex said to answer their unasked questions. “She said she'll do it, no problem. All we need to do is to tell her when and where.”

Riss nodded, looking up from her ever-present laptop. “Good. The next thing we need is Lily. I'll start that up right away.”

Lex watched as Riss' focus became pulled into her machine and bit her lip, hoping on the chance that if they could contact Lily, that there would be something she could do to help Kate.

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