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Invisible Smoke

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It had been a long week, awaiting word from Shermarke and Gabriel on what news they had of Bernie, and Serena tried to fill all their time with activities that would take their minds off the reason why they were there in the first place. It felt like a losing battle most of the time, but Cameron was at least playing along for the moment, which made her content. Still, it was a shock to hear someone quietly knocking on her hotel door late in the evening, after she and Charlotte had gone to bed.

Getting up, she threw a cardigan over her pyjamas and padded over to the door, wondering who it could be. Peering through the peephole on the door, a soft gasp escaped her lips to see Shermarke standing there, looking nervous. Despite wanting to tear the door open and beckon him inside, Serena found her normally steady hands trembling and shaking, which made undoing the locks on the doors take longer than it should. Finally, though, she managed to throw the deadbolt and wrench open the door, peering down both sides of the hall, as if to assure herself that he was along and everything was all right. "Come in, come in," she hissed, closing the door quickly and quietly behind him before locking it once more. "Cam's in the next room over. Should I wake him?"

Shermarke shook his head. "No, you can inform him in the morning that we leave at first light. Doctor Wolfe and the others have been found, and it will be a journey to reach them, but I have every belief that you can do so without arousing the suspicions of the rebels. Pack lightly, as we will be on the move, and there will be no extra hands to help you carry your belongings. It would be better if one of you stayed behind to make things look somewhat normal, but I know that there is no way you could ask either of her children to do that."

"Is there something that I should do, in order to not make it look like we just disappeared for a short period of time?"

Shermarke thought for a moment before answering. "Tell them a bit of the truth. That I, as your guide, am going to safely show you some of the countryside, and that you will return in seven to ten days, depending on what we see. That should pacify the front desk, along with a generous prepaying of the tip would have given the maid for that span of time."

Serena nodded as she glanced over at a sleeping Charlotte. "Do you know if she's all right? Should I be preparing them for the worst when you come to collect us tomorrow morning?"

"All we currently know is their location and that she is alive. They all are alive. Beyond that, we'll find out when we reach the camp. I am truly hoping, for your sake, that she is fine."

"Thank you, for everything," she whispered before releasing a long breath. "Until tomorrow morning."

Shermarke gave her a small smile as he let himself out of the hotel room. It took her a few beats to remember that she had to relock the doors, which she did before taking a seat at the table and pulling more money out of her wallet. From what their guide had intimated, she needed to give the front desk worker a rather large bribe in order to make it appear as if everything was all right with them, and she was glad that she had the spare cash to do so. Once she felt like she had an appropriate amount counted out, Serena slipped her feet into a pair of shoes before heading down to the front desk.

"May I help you, Doctor Campbell?"

She gave the man a winning smile as she nodded. "I completely forgot that the guide I hired to drive us around the city has decided to show us the countryside, or at least, the safe parts of it. We're leaving before the sun rises tomorrow, but I want to keep the rooms here, since I'm not completely certain when we'll return. Shermarke mentioned it being about seven to ten days, though. This should cover things with our maid until we return."

Looking around, Serena made certain that no one was watching them before handing over the money, seeing the man's eyes widen a little. "This will be more than adequate, Doctor Campbell. I will make certain that everything is kept safe for you until you get back. Enjoy your trip through our countryside, I'm certain that you'll enjoy it."

"That is exactly what I am hoping for, thank you." Nodding sharply at the clerk, Serena turned on her heel and made her way back up to their rooms, knocking on Cameron's door on her way over to her room. He opened the door, looking ready to say something when she shook her head and gestured towards her door. Nodding, he padded over to her and they went inside together. "Sit down while I wake your sister up. I have news."

"Hopefully good news."

"It might be, we'll have to wait and see." He yawned as he slumped down into a chair, and Serena gave him a small smile as she shook Charlotte's arm in order to wake her. "Hey, get up and join us at our table. I have something to tell you."

Charlotte nodded as she stretched, slipping out of the bed and stumbling over to the table, sinking down into a free chair and blearily looking at Serena. "So, what did you wake us up for?" she asked through a yawn, and Serena smiled as she took the last free chair, looking at both of them.

"We are going on a Shermarke led adventure in the morning. You'll need to pack a small rucksack that you can feasibly carry for a few days. Leave the rest of your things here, I've already arranged with the front desk that everything will be safe until we get back."

"They've found Mum then?" Cameron asked, hope blooming in his face as he leaned forward, suddenly wide awake. "What are we waiting for? We should leave now!"

Serena chuckled a little as she shook her head. "We need a good night's sleep, and we need to pack. The morning will be soon enough, I promise."

"Did he say how Mum was?"

She looked at Charlotte and shook her head a little. "No, there's no word on her condition, nor that of her colleagues, but they are all alive. When we reach the rebel camp, we're going to rescue everyone and bring them back here. We can't worry about things that are still out of our control until we reach that point. All right?"

Charlotte gave her a disappointed nod, and Serena reached out to cover the young woman's hand with her own, giving it a soft squeeze. "I just want everything to be all right."

"I know you do, sweetheart, and so do I. We just have to give it a little more time. Now, Cameron, I'd suggest getting back to your room, setting your alarm for five, and packing up that bag. We're going to do the same thing here before getting back to sleep. I have no idea how long this journey will take, so we have to be prepared for anything. All right?"

Cameron nodded, the first true smile curving his lips upwards as he got up and made his way to the door. "I can't believe that this day has finally arrived. Thank you for arranging this, Serena."

"If you weren't giving up hope, I wasn't about to, either. And now that hope and faith is being rewarded." Her smile to him was warm, and she watched him leave the room with a fond expression on her face. "All right, Charlie, let's get our bags packed up for the morning. Remember, minimal clothing, enough to get us by for seven to ten days, and we'll wear our boots, since we don't know the terrain we're going to be covering."

"Yes, Serena." They got up and began to pack their smaller bags, talking quietly between themselves as they worked. It was comforting to have her so near, and she hoped that they could continue this relationship once they were home in England. While Charlotte wasn't a replacement for Elinor, it was still nice to feel like she had a daughter figure in her life once more. "All right, I think that I have everything packed away that I'll need. Are we heading back to sleep now?"

"Just let me set our alarm so that we wake up on time. After all, I'd hate to get a late start on this journey. Not when we're so close to finding out more answers as to what happened to your mother."

Charlotte nodded as she climbed back into bed, pulling the covers up around her shoulders as she yawned widely. "I am going to try and make certain that Cam allows you and Mum to reunite first. She needs to see you first, so that she knows what lengths you went to in order to find her. Okay?"

Serena nodded as she set both the clock and her phone for a five AM wake up call. "I will cherish that if it happens that way, but if she wants to see you and Cameron first, that will be okay, too," she said as she crawled in next to Charlotte, turning on her side to look at her. "I just don't want to have this little bit of hope torn from us, you know?"

Charlotte nodded before sighing. "I know. But we still have to hold onto hope, otherwise I think that we'd go mad." She sighed as she closed her eyes, knowing that Charlotte was right, looking forward to what might happen in the coming days.