For several hours, the group sat around talking, laughing, and exchanging old stories. For Jonathan and Martha, the tales of their teenage days, long hazy, came back in brilliant color and clarity. For the Duboises, the special feeling of finding someone you thought was gone, and a father's joy overwhelmed them all. The teenagers sat beside their companions, quietly soaking in the moment.
Dave looked around and smiled at the area. The magic was definitely still there. This was the reason he had acted as he did all those years ago. If there had been any doubt, he realized that his pain had been for a purpose: to keep this mystical place standing.
Lex watched the scene with mixed feelings. He felt envious of everyone there since he and his father would enjoy no such moments. However, in spite of his aim to stay detached, he was a part of these people and their lives for better or for worse. Oh, he had intended to stay only a few years here, survive his experience, and move on. But, something happened along the way. These people had touched his soul and welcomed him into their inner circle--not because he was the scion of the almighty Lionel Luthor. No, it had been in spite of his heritage. He was one of them because of his own personality. In short, the spoiled rich boy had become a caring man of the world. In spite of his best laid plans and ambitions, he was one of them, and he liked it that way. A tear creased his cheek at his friends' happiness around him.
Then reality struck as he heard the door open and close. Turning, he saw his father come strutting in, the arrogant frown on his face. "We're closed, Dad."
"I noticed," Lionel remarked, looking at the scene. "There's no profit to be had in giving food away and empty tables at this hour."
Jonathan started to rise, but Lex held up his hand. "This, Dad, is what's called a special occasion."
"Yes. I assume since the two deadbeat sons are here, carrying on while their father rots in jail. You do know how to pick your friends, don't you?" Lionel asked with a tone of righteous sarcasm.
Randy shook his head. While he didn't share Dave's views about their father, he wasn't going to take the elder Luthor's tone.
"Siddown," Dave growled low.
His brother shuddered at the dark glare, remembering the wild stories he had heard from Cybelle and others.
"David," Lex stated. "This isn't your fight."
"Oh Hell yeah it is," the professor hissed, getting out of the booth.
"Dave, don't!" Karen and Angie chorused.
He shook them off and walked across the room. At the table, the others could feel the anger boiling off of him as he approached the two Luthors.
"I see you're as dramatic as ever," Lionel cracked. "Nice to see you haven't changed. You're still the obnoxious brat."
"Dad, don't," Lex warned.
"He's right, ya know," Dave mentioned. By now, he was right at the edge of his self-control. "But, Unca Lionel, it's nice to know you're still the ice-king and biggest conceited egomaniac there ever was." A smug grin spread across his face, daring a reaction from the businessman.
Lex shook his head. Nobody talked like that to his father and got away with it. Didn't this guy learn from the last time? Shouldn't that hospital stay have convinced him? Then it hit him. After a lifetime of standing up to his own father, Dave had nothing else to fear, especially from the Lionel Luthor type.
"Now, I know why Eckhart wants you dead," Lionel assumed. "You're a psychopath."
Dave chuckled maniacally, sending pinpricks of icy fear up everyone's spines in the room, including Lex's. "Ya'll had better hope not, jerk. An'..." He started shaking and gripped a booth for support.
"Lex, how many has he had?" Lionel baited. "He's raving."
"Dad," Lex interjected. "This has gone on far enough."
"Stop this!" Angie added. "Can't you see he's suffered enough?"
"Git back!" Dave barked, but it was the Child who now called the shots. "Ah'll deal wi' this!"
Jonathan and Martha gaped at the change. What was going on with him?
Lionel examined the facial gestures of the man in front of him. The reports were true despite what he had thought earlier. The signs were all there: the closed eye, the growling, and the attitude. "You need help."
"Oh, like ya gave us 20 years ago? Hey, Jonathan, do ya remember when that front window was installed?" the Child asked.
"While you...were in the hospital," the farmer answered.
"After we went through it," the Dark One clarified. "Fortunately, we had good doctors. We needed them after dear Daddy left us beaten and bloody, face down in the gutter 'cross the street!" Leaning really close to Lionel's face, he pressed, "An' ya pulled him away, citin' some pretty verse 'bout cuttin' an infection 'fore it poisons everythin'."
"You were and still are a poison. I won't let you damage my son," Lionel stated.
"If Ah'm poisoned, Unca Lionel, it was ya'll and Daddy Dearest who put it in us!" the Child spat darkly, glaring menacingly into the other's eyes.
"Lex," Lionel called, his voice rising just a bit. "Do something."
His son sipped on his cappuccino and shrugged. "Hey, aren't you always telling me to clean up after myself? You caused this mess. Now, you fix it, Dad."
"Lex," Clark argued. "This isn't a game. Trust me, I've seen him like this."
"I've seen the footage, Clark," Lex told him calmly, sipping on the drink. "I trust Professor Dubois to give my father a lesson without hurting him."
The teenagers all looked at each other, scared out of their wits.
For her part, Chloe wondered if she wasn't right after all about him in the first place.
"'Spite your best efforts, we're here. Damaged maybe, but still here. Na' ya'll, an' na' Whitey can stop that!" the Child informed Lionel firmly. "Now, git outta here 'fore Ah really git pissed!"
"This isn't your place," Lionel stated.
At that moment, Lana thought she heard calling for her. Beside the two men, the figure of a man with black hair in a white robe appeared, asking her to intervene. It was for her to say something.
"Clark, do you see someone beside Mr. Luthor and Professor Dubois?" she whispered in his ear.
"No, why?" her boyfriend replied, confused at the question.
"I'll explain later," she told him, walking over. "This is partially my place, Mr. Luthor, and I want you to leave. Professor Dubois is our guest and he shouldn't have to deal with these things. Now, please leave."
Everyone gave Lana a surprised look.
"Lex..." his father chuckled.
"You heard the lady, Dad. I quite agree. If you don't walk out, I'll have David escort you out," his son said supportively of his partner's assertion, relishing both her steadfastness and his father's embarrassment. "You're disturbing the peace...again."
"I am the peace," the elder man concluded.
"Ya're the chaos," the Child contradicted. "Your boy there has darkness in 'im. Ah know it an' so does he. He cares 'bout us all. In spite of everythin', he's human. It takes a real man to stand up to a tyrant like ya'll." Glancing over at Lex, he continued, "Ya'll don't wanna be like me."
The young man considered those words carefully. With them, he felt that his risk was about to be rewarded.
"He's my son...my creation," Lionel argued.
"I'm my own man, Dad," Lex countered. "And I agree with the good professor here. It's time for you to go."
"If Ah were the freak ya'll think, Ah'd kill ya right now!" the Child pointed out bluntly. "But, ya'll are gonna get a chance to crawl outta here. Even now, Ah'm better than ya'll an' Daddy Dearest, Scum."
Steve dialed his cell phone. Hearing the sheriff answer, he started, "This is Agent Petersen of the FBI at the Talon. We may have a potential situation here. Hang on please." Placing the call on hold, he stared at the intruder.
"You wouldn't dare!" the elder Luthor chortled in disbelief.
"Try me," the agent asserted. "My friends deserve some peace from the likes of you. Leave or I'm going to file a complaint against you. I'm sure that some of your business associates would love to see some mud in your eye, wouldn't they?"
Lionel looked around the room at the angry faces. While he didn't really care about these peons, he wasn't about to pick a fight with the enraged man in front of him. "This isn't finished, Dubois."
"Ya got that one right," the Child growled. "Ah want ya in jail for wha' ya did ta us! One day, Luthor, Ah'll see ya in there where ya'll belong." He stood there, shaking from the effort to hold himself back. "Wha? Are ya'll deaf? AH SAID GIT!"
"We'll speak of this, Lex," the father concluded before making his way out the door. He had lost this battle, but there would be other phases of the war. Yelling at his driver, Lionel sat back as the limo drove away. He detested losing and he had done just that. No, this wasn't over, not by a long shot.
Meantime, inside of the Talon, the Child stared through the glass at the car. "Ah still wanna whup 'im good." Looking back at the others, he stalked across the room and sat down in a far corner. "Ah know the rules," he sulked, focusing and allowing Dave back out.
"Where is he?" Dave asked, rubbing his head.
"You got rid of him," Lex pointed out, saluting him with his cup. "And, I might add, without touching him. Nicely done."
Angie got up and hugged her husband. "I'm really proud of you, Dave. You did it."
"Amen," Karen agreed.
"I'll say," Clark concurred, recalling the Child's grand tantrum on the U of A campus. That restraint demonstrated to the young man that there was a lot he could learn from the professor.
"Randy, are you okay?" Dave asked.
"I'm fine. Thanks to you," he concurred, holding his daughter tightly. "Thanks to you."
An hour later, the doors to the Talon had reopened to the public. Needing rest in some cases and to finish packing in others, the group prepared to depart.
As they did, Lex told Dave, "Thank you for your confidence in me, Dave. I appreciate it."
Shaking his hand, the professor replied, "I do remember that, Lex. I meant it. You are a better man than your father." With that, he took his wife's hand and left the place.
After everyone else had departed, Jonathan came over next and added, "That took guts, Lex. I think I've misjudged you all of these years. Thank you."
As much as Lex wanted to celebrate those words, he kept a calm exterior. "No problem, Mr. Kent. I meant it. Dad's got to learn that he can't just pick fights with impunity. Sooner or later, somebody's going to come by with a much bigger stick than his. It finally happened today and hopefully, I can live up to that confidence."
"Just keep trying," the farmer advised as he left.
For a while afterwards, the entrepreneur sat at the corner table, sipping on coffee and staring into space. He was indeed establishing a space here...a place he could call home. And he was doing it as Lex, not Lionel Jr. That, he had to admit, felt damn good.
As they left, Lana pulled Clark aside and asked, "Can you meet me at my place? I think you're going to want to see something."
"We do need to pack," he pointed out, but glancing into her eyes, he saw that determined look again.
"Let's go to the Inn and get the Profs. They'll want to see this too," she asserted, leading him toward the lodging facility.
Chloe came out of the elevator with a smile on her face. The interview had been really short-maybe only ten minutes or so, but the professor had shown remarkable poise throughout it. After the scene with Lionel Luthor disrupted the special mood at the Talon, she had expected him to be moody and well...terse to say the least. Much to her surprise, he was calm-somewhere between moods on his emotional roller coaster-but still willing to address the issues behind the Talon incident.
"Hey, Chloe," Clark greeted as he and Lana entered the lobby.
"Hi, guys," the blonde reporter replied. "Sorry I have to run, but Dad wants me to get home ASAP. The Duboises are all yours."
"How is he?" Lana wondered.
"If you're talking about your History professor upstairs, I'd say he's dealing with the mood swing we all experienced at the Talon. The interview went fine. He managed to tell me some things. I'll speak to my friend at the Ledger about them. I'll say this-you picked two interesting professors. Well, I'll be by tomorrow before you leave. See ya!" Chloe explained before she disappeared through the glass doors.
"At least he's still calm," he presumed.
"He just had a major triumph, Clark, by standing up to both Mr. Luthor and his own problems like that. Although, I thought your folks were going to freak when he changed," Lana responded as they got into the elevator. "I'm glad that everything worked out."
"Yeah, me too. Thanks, Lana, for stepping forward. I gotta say I was impressed," he complimented, kissing her cheek.
"Yeah, it feels nice being the one who saves the day for a change," she cracked, allowing her eyes to sparkle at him.
"You better be careful. This is starting to become a trend," he joked back, the warm smile on his face.
She giggled. What was it about him that brought out the best in her? "Thank you, Clark, for just being you." She returned the kiss. "Now, let's not keep them waiting." Walking to the room, she knocked on the door.
Angie stuck her head out. "Oh. Hi, kids, umm...Professor Dubois isn't exactly feeling his best right now. Sorry, but..."
"That's okay. Sorry, Dr. Dubois, we can come back later," he agreed, starting to turn back down the hall.
Lana sighed. "I'm sorry if I seem rude, but this is important. I need you both to come with us tonight."
The oncologist studied the younger woman. Lana hadn't seemed the pushy type, so what was going on? "Are you both okay?"
Lana nodded. "Last night after you dropped me off, I went riding in the woods to do some thinking. I...um...had something happen." Leaning close to the other's ear, she whispered, "Xena appeared and talked to me in the cemetery last night."
Angie took a step back, trying to deal with that statement. "Okay, come in," she agreed, needing to get to the bottom of this situation. Closing the door, she asked, "What happened?"
["We spoke," Xena stated from within her mind. "As much as I hate to put David through anything else right now, you two need to go with them tonight. Trust me, I can't say any more than that, but take my word for it."]
[All right," Angie concurred, trusting that Xena knew what she was doing.]
"Angie, who's there?" Dave called from the balcony.
"Clark and Lana. We have to go out tonight," she replied.
Dave walked into the room, still rubbing his head. He was obviously exhausted by the situations of the previous two days. Beside him, Karen stood quietly assessing the situation and knowing that he couldn't take much more.
"What is it, Angie?" she inquired.
"It's important. Special request from...you know," the doctor hinted, pointing at her head.
"Ah," the nurse agreed.
"Well, I guess then, we're going out," Dave agreed, sitting on a padded chair in the corner. "Are you both okay?"
"We're fine, sir," Clark informed him.
"We're just concerned about you is all," Lana added.
He smiled warmly and looked at both Angie and Karen before turning back to the two students. "You don't know how much that means to me. It's okay. Believe it or not, dealing with Lionel Luthor, and then talking to Chloe about what happened really made me feel better. Thanks."
The two teenagers exchanged relieved looks before grinning warmly at him.
"We'll need to meet at my aunt's farm. Is eight-thirty too late? Sorry, but it has to be after sunset," Lana indicated.
"Okay," Angie agreed, rubbing her husband's shoulders. "We'll be there."
"Great. Well, we have to get our chores done," Clark told the trio. "We'll see you there."
"Right. And, Clark, tell your folks if they have any questions about what happened in the Talon today, I'll be happy to answer them," Dave replied.
"I'll do that, but I don't think they will, Professor Dubois. They were there, remember? And, trust me, they were upset about it too," Clark assured him. "See ya tonight." With that, he guided Lana out the door and back to the elevator.
"Those kids are something else," Karen stated.
"They are certainly special," Angie agreed.
"I'm going to enjoy seeing them in class," Dave concurred, taking a deep breath. Whatever this sudden engagement was, if Xena was involved, it was going to be a doozy.
Just after sunset, Lana and Clark waited on her front porch, sipping on glasses of lemonade and admiring the Kansas scenery. For both, this was a time of transition. However, at least they had each other.
"So, when are you going to tell me what this is all about?" he asked, half-nervously/half-eagerly.
"Be patient, Clark. As soon as they get here, we'll get started," she assured him.
He nodded, wondering if he had done something wrong. Usually, she was so open with him, especially since they had returned from Tucson. However, she had been so secretive the whole day, even before Lex's Dad had intruded into the Talon gathering. He had trusted her with his secret, why couldn't she tell him what was on her mind?
Sensing that he was troubled, she rubbed his hand and told him, "It's okay, Clark. You haven't done anything. I just want to show everyone at once is all." Seeing the mists form, she stood and watched as Dave, Angie, and Deirdre stepped out of them. "Glad you could make it!" she greeted, coming down the stairs.
"Thanks for inviting us," Dave replied, managing a smile. "Where's your aunt?"
"She's at bridge club tonight," Lana informed him. "Now, please follow me."
As they followed her to the barn, Angie felt a weird tingling.
"What is it?" her husband asked with concern, knowing the expression that was on her face.
"Keep an eye out," she told him doing the same. Entering the barn, she looked around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
"Almost there," the hostess told them, leading them out the back door to where Willow was waiting in the corral.
Upon seeing the group, the mare glared at them.
"What's Willow doing out?" Clark inquired. "Letting her run around?"
"She will be soon enough," his girlfriend assured him. "Dr. Dubois, can you take Willow out for a ride?"
"Lana," Clark sighed. "She never lets anyone ride her."
"Wait and see," Lana hinted mysteriously, getting into the pen and putting a saddle on the horse.
"If you think it's safe," Angie agreed, getting onto Willow's back. Surprisingly, the horse trotted around the length of the corral.
"I don't believe it," Clark gasped.
Dave focused on his wife. For some reason, he felt something out of place here. The horse. There was something about the horse.
Angie felt a warm feeling coming from Xena. ["What is it?" she probed.]
["Bring me out and see," the warrior replied, the eagerness clearly in her voice.]
["Okay," the doctor agreed.] Reaching over her shoulder, she pulled the sword, starting the change.
In a minute, Xena sat in her place on the mount's back. Seeing the shocked expression on Clark's face, she glanced down at the horse.
Argo looked back at her.
"Hi, Girl," the warrior greeted her horse, stroking her mane. "This is one of the things Lana wanted to show ya."
Saddling Buttercup, Lana requested, "Clark and Deirdre, can you meet us at the cemetery? I'm going to ride ahead with the Duboises."
"Okay," the priestess agreed. "C'mon, Clark." Opening a portal, she guided him through it before disappearing into it himself.
"Can I get a lift with you?" Dave asked Xena.
"Sure, but I think ya might wanna whistle first," the Warrior Princess hinted, the mischievousness clearly evident on her face.
"Whistle?" Dave wondered incredulously.
"Yeah, like you did in the Inner Realms," Xena pressed the issue.
He shrugged. It seemed dumb, but oh well. Pursing his lips, he exhaled two shrill notes toward the barn.
In response, a whinny could be heard in the distance followed by a galloping sound.
"No way," he gasped, looking toward the pasture. Even in the dim dusk, he could see a black Andalusian steed galloping toward him. "Streaker!" he exclaimed. "How?"
"He's already saddled, Papa," Deirdre informed him. "Compliments of Molori. For service well performed."
The professor stroked his horse's flank and felt a smile crossing his face. In the face of three wars, Streaker had been the most loyal companion one could want. Now, they could enjoy a good ride without worrying about trolls or demons. Climbing up on Streaker, he felt right in the saddle.
"Molori?" Lana asked.
"A friend. We'll tell ya about him sometime," Xena noted. "Now, why don't you take the lead?"
"Right," the younger woman agreed, urging Buttercup to start before riding off.
Dave smiled and waved his hand in a sweeping motion. "Ladies first."
Xena chuckled and stated, "Yah, Argo!"
"Go, Boy!" Dave told Streaker.
The two horses took off, catching Buttercup in no time flat before settling into a slower pace.
Clark looked around the cemetery. It felt strange to be out there without Lana. In addition, there was something out of place there. He just couldn't put his finger on what it was.
"What's wrong?" Deirdre probed, the concern clearly etched on her face.
"Something's different," he mentioned.
"We'll know more when Papa, Xena, and Lana get here," she assumed.
"Right," Lana concurred as the trio rode up to the gate out of the dark woods.
"This is it," Xena indicated, dismounting from Argo and entering the graveyard.
"Smallville Cemetery," Dave read the sign as he climbed down from Streaker and followed them in. All around him, he felt the strange vibrations associated with spirits. While none were visible, he knew they weren't alone. "Who wants to talk with us, Lana?"
"Some old friends," she declared, stopping in front of her parents' headstone.
Although she knew what was going on, Xena still kept a sharp eye peeled for trouble. One never knew what could pop up in a place like this.
Lana smiled as she saw her grandfather. "Hi!" she greeted.
"Good evening, Sweetie," he replied pleasantly with a warm smile.
Clark tapped her on the shoulder. "Who are you talking to, Lana?"
"My grandfather. He's standing right there," she indicated, pointing to the phantasm.
He stared in that direction, but was unable to see anything. "Are you okay? There's nothing there, Lana. Tell her, Professor Dubois."
Dave grinned. "She's right, Clark. Somehow, she can see whatever's there. I can sense it, but I can't see it. Do you see him, Lana?"
"As clearly as I can see you both," she affirmed.
The professor smiled. "Well, it seems you have a gift of your own, Lana. You're unique as well, you might say."
"She can see dead people?" Clark wondered.
"Yeah, just like you can do the impossible, Clark," Lana replied almost nonchalantly.
He studied her as she looked around them, recognizing faces which were buried there, but none of them could see-not even Clark with his x-ray vision.
Then above the headstone, a light appeared, coalescing into a pair of figures awash in light. Their flowing white robes contrasted with their dark hair. Lana immediately recognized them as Lewis and Laura Lang.
"Are those your parents?" Clark asked Lana in disbelief.
"Yes," she replied, a smile clearly coming to her face. "How are you both?"
"We're fine," her father replied, his eyes twinkling. "Are you doing all right?"
"It's been an interesting day," the teenaged girl told him. "We've had two of those reunions that Mom hinted at last night. Miranda and her Dad are together again, not to mention Professor Dubois and his horse. Unfortunately, Lionel Luthor had to show up and ruin things."
"He didn't," Laura assured her. "It was a test." Looking at Dave, she continued, "And you passed."
"With flying colors," Lewis agreed. "You showed her the picture, right?"
"Right," Dave indicated. "And told the story about how you two got serious with each other." A smile crossed his lips. "I told you so, Chief."
"I can't thank you enough," Lewis expressed. Looking first at his wife and then, his daughter, he continued, "You've given me so much."
"All I did was tell you to say hi. You took it from there," he professor assured him.
"Yes, we did," the angelic mother concurred. "David, can you make sure that Lana's okay in Arizona? We know she's ready to leave Smallville, but especially with her new talents, we want her to be safe."
"Consider it done," the professor promised. "I promised, remember?"
"Yes you did," Lewis noted, a wry grin on his face. "And you'll do a great job of it."
"We also wanted to say thank you again for saving the Talon...not only for us, but for future generations," Laura added.
"It was just another stand for me to take," Dave responded honestly.
"Keep up the good work," she continued as they vanished. "Lana, if you need us, just call and we'll be there..." With that, the two angels were gone.
"Wow," Clark stated, trying to comprehend what he had just seen.
"Now you know why I've been so secretive today, Clark," Lana revealed. "I just hope that we can...well..."
"What? Most of my friends are mutants too, remember?" he assured her, embracing and kissing her as proof. "And I'm from another planet. What's the problem?"
She smiled brilliantly, hugging him as tightly as she could. At last, she felt kind of on par with him. She now had a secret talent too, one that would link them for a long, long time.
For a few minutes, Dave and Xena watched the scene develop before cutting in. "Umm, guys," he chuckled. "It's getting late and you're causing the air to fog up."
Xena cast him an incredulous glance. " 'Causing the air to fog up'? Is that the best line you can manage?"
"Hey, it works," the professor cracked, getting back onto Streaker. Looking at Lana, he told her, "Thanks for inviting us tonight. This was special."
"My pleasure and, I guess, my folks' as well," the younger woman indicated, climbing on Buttercup. "Come on, Clark. Since Deirdre had to leave, I'll give you a lift to the farm."
"Lead on," he agreed, settling down behind her in the saddle.
She grinned wickedly and urged Buttercup to take off.
"Your turn to go first. I insist," Xena told Dave.
"Right," he agreed as they took off heading for the farm to wrap up that very hectic and pivotal day.
Chapter 23 [The Next Day]
Early the next morning, Randy and Miranda walked back into the Talon where the others waited for them. For much of the previous afternoon, they had picked out a few things and packed them for the trip back to Massachusetts. Although she would be back on the weekends to check on the restaurant, Miranda felt that her time in Smallville was quickly coming to a close.
As the taxi pulled up in front of the restaurant, Randy told her, "Take your time. I'll wait."
His daughter nodded and turned to face her friends. For as long as she could remember, Clark, Lana, and Chloe had always been there not minding if she was three years older than them. Especially with the former two, their common thread as orphans had made it easy to bear life in a small town. She promised herself that she would always be their friend and to stay in touch.
"I can't believe it's time already," she remarked, hugging Chloe.
"Time flies," the news junkie replied pleasantly. "Thanks for being so helpful with The Torch."
"Sure," Miranda agreed. "Your passion made it easy for me to hand it over to you."
"Well, New York's not that far from Massachusetts. I'll stop by when I can if that's okay?" Chloe offered.
"That'll be great," Miranda said enthusiastically, hugging her again. Turning to Clark and Lana, she told them, "I'll be out to see Auntie Angie and Uncle Dave so often, you won't have a chance to miss me."
"We're going to hold you to that," Lana asserted, allowing a humorous undertone in her voice.
"And I'm going to second that," he stated, embracing her. "Thanks for being such a great friend."
"You're the great friends," Miranda replied, hugging them both. "Lana, I'm going to miss stepping into the Talon and not seeing you there."
"It's time to move on," Lana surmised. "It's time for all of us. Take care and enjoy being with everyone. We'll see you soon, okay?"
"You bet," she agreed, heading over to her aunt and uncle who waited off to the side. "I'll talk to you both soon."
"Sure," Angie agreed. "We'll look forward to hearing from you."
"If you need anything, Short Stuff, you call," Dave advised, holding her tightly. "Take care of your Dad."
"Right," Miranda mentioned, heading for the taxi.
"Oh, Miranda! I almost forgot to give you this," Chloe interjected, hustling over to hand her a newspaper. "This is a copy of The Torch-our last edition together as a team." The blonde reporter's eyes watered as she embraced her friend again. "Take care, okay?"
"You too," Miranda declared, returning the hug. "We'll email soon."
Chloe silently nodded, stepping back to join her friends.
Miranda took a long look around at Smallville. For years, she had wanted to find her real family and leave there. Now that she had, she wasn't sure that she wanted to leave. "You have to," she told herself as she got into the cab and rode off for the airport with her father.
"That was nice," Lex assessed as he walked onto the scene.
"Lex, I didn't think you were going to show," Clark declared.
"What? And miss seeing my friends off?" Lex replied incredulously. "Surely you jest, Clark. I had some business in Metropolis and broke a few speed limits to get back here for this event. Both of you do well down there, okay? Good luck and stay in touch. If there's anything you need, you let me know."
"Thank you, Lex, for being a good friend and partner," Lana expressed, shaking his hand.
"My pleasure," the entrepreneur told her.
"Lex, I don't know what to say," Clark told him.
"That's okay. You've been a good friend, probably better than I deserve, but I'm glad we met. Just remember that I'll be flying both you and Lana up here from time to time just to talk," Lex informed them.
"Or you can come down to the desert if you want to talk, Lex," Dave offered.
Lex nodded. Given his own inner turmoil, he would definitely benefit from talking with his father's adversary. "Don't be surprised if I do."
"Just don't let him drag you down," the professor advised. "You don't want to end up as I did."
"I don't know about that," the younger man surmised. "You have a beautiful wife, a great job in a glorious location, and excellent students. You're a better man than you give yourself credit, Dave." Shaking his hand, he concluded, "Keep your head up. I, for one, was very impressed with your control over this weekend."
"Thanks for that. Keep on the higher road, okay?" Dave requested.
"You know it," the businessman told him. "See you all soon." With that, he got in the Porsche and drove off.
Angie saw Dave watching him drive away. "What is it?"
"There's a lot of darkness in him, Princess, especially dark thoughts and ambitions. I hope he doesn't give into them. His father could push him over the edge," he worried.
"Look, you made the offer. That's all you can do. Trust him to make the right decision. You did," she assured him.
He smiled and kissed her, knowing that she had made his entire day.
A few hours later, the scene repeated itself at the Smallville airport as Jonathan, Martha, and Lana's Aunt Nell had all gathered to see the kids off. After the heart-wrenching embraces and tears were exchanged, Chloe handed Clark and Lana their papers.
"See you two later. Don't forget to write me, okay?" she requested. Then, she gripped them both tightly. "I'm really going to miss you both!"
"So will we," Clark indicated sadly, wishing that she were going with them.
"Thanks for everything," Lana added.
"You take care of him, okay?" the journalist told her, the tears dribbling from her eyes. After all of those years, he was riding off into the sunset with Lana and leaving her here. No matter how she had tried to deal with it, the pain still ate at her. She would always love him no matter what. "Sorry, but I have to go." With that, she got into her car and drove away.
For a long minute, they all stood quiet, blown away by Chloe's feelings. Then, Dave said, "We do have to go." Looking at the two kids, he told them, "We'll wait at the gate. Take your time." Before they walked through security, he expressed, "Once again, thank you both for everything."
"Thank you, David," Martha replied.
"Right. Let us know if there's a problem or anything," Jonathan added. "Remember, the door's always open if you want to pop in. If you get my drift."
Angie chuckled at the pun. "We will. Thank you both. I know Karen and Steve really appreciated the hospitality." With that, they walked through the gate, leaving the kids with their guardians for final thoughts.
Unfortunately, their flight was announced at that moment.
"Whoops! That's us! Well, we'll have them call you when they get in," Lana added as she kissed her aunt.
"I love you both," Clark added, embracing his parents.
Then, the teenagers bolted for the gate and made the plane with minutes to spare.
After the plane took off, Martha asked, "I wonder what's waiting for them out there?"
"The big world, Martha," he replied frankly. "We've done the best we can. Now, it's up to them."
She nodded and rubbed Nell's shoulder, knowing that the latter was under the weather as well.
"C'mon, let's go get some dinner," Jonathan offered.
The ladies followed him to the truck and they drove off in search of life after parenthood in a manner of speaking. Never forgetting that they were parents, but maybe just a bit less involved in things.
Later that evening, Steve walked into the morgue glad to know that another challenge was behind them. Farrell had shown him a letter of commendation from the Metropolis Police Department for his role in saving the kids from the high school standoff. That and an overall good letter for him went into his file. Now, he sought closure.
He saw Natalie talking to Nick in front of him. "Hi, guys. What's up?"
"Steve," he greeted glumly.
"What is it? Something's wrong," the agent guessed.
"Take a look at this," Natalie indicated, showing him the freezer door. The lock was practically ripped off of it.
"Who or what did this?" Steve demanded. Rushing into the room, he saw another horrifying sight: an empty gurney. "Isn't that where?"
"Yeah," the coroner agreed. "That's where I put Eckhart's body before I went home this morning. When I came in, it was like this and the day shift has no idea of what happened. Another vampire. Right, Nick?"
The new Elder nodded nervously. It hadn't even been a month yet and already there was a revolt from within the Community. This would have to be dealt with and soon. He remembered his warning to LaCroix. If Eckhart was brought across, he could be the death of them all. "Dave and Adam have to be told. Meantime, I'll also let Janette know. If the Renegades or worse, the Enforcers, get a hold of him, there's going to be Hell to pay."
Meantime, about a five-hour drive to the north, Mutant X's new headquarters was almost ready to go. It had been almost too easy for Steve to cut through the red tape and Nick to purchase the former NORAD facility which had been long deserted. Thanks to their efforts, as well as those of Larry Merlin, any memory of this place's existence had been wiped clean from the public's knowledge.
Adam looked around at this place. It needed a lot of work for sure, but at least, it would be a new Sanctuary to replace the defiled one. Eventually, he and his team would bring back the decorative elements: plants, fountains, etc. However, for now, they could rough it for a while as they helped Dave to set up his branch of the Underground.
Logan and Toni labored away at the computers, making sure they were hack proof and untraceable. The alarms which had been so important in saving everything were installed once again. The databases were functional as well.
"How are we doing?" Adam inquired.
"You're ready to go," Logan informed him, making his way across the room to join Max.
"I don't think the GSA's going to find you again," Toni asserted.
"And we should have the old Sanctuary completely emptied before the GSA can get back there," Dave added, allowing a couple of planters to alight gently on the floor. "You want to help us with the Dojo?"
"We can do that," Jesse agreed, taking his girlfriend's hand and stepping through the mists.
"You bet," Shalimar stated, leading Brennan and Emma after them.
The leader took another look around. Everything was coming together. The new mutants, Clark, and Lana would soon start school together. This Sanctuary would soon be complete. And, best of all, the dream was alive again thanks to the help of his friends. Nodding in satisfaction, he followed the others into the fog.
[A hotel on the outskirts of Nogales, Sonora]
Eckhart slowly opened his eyes. What had happened? The last thing he remembered was going to help a little girl who was crying. Then, she turned on him, sinking fangs into his throat. He remembered death and now, a very cold form of unlife. Worse still, there was a burning hunger the likes of which he had never felt before. Feeling his face, he couldn't find the plastic covering. "What? Where is it?"
"If you're looking for that cocoon, you won't need it any longer, Mason Eckhart," a firm voice advised.
Turning, he saw a massive, well-built man in Middle Eastern robes and a Turkish head covering. "Who are you?"
"One who shares your vision of world purity and your hatred of Dubois," the man exclaimed. "You are no longer human. You are one of us now. A vampire. I am Ali, an Enforcer and the one who brought you back from the edge. Join us in our quest to make the world pure!"
The offer hit the right chord. "Certainly. Seeing as my former subordinates left me to be dragged off. I would not only be avenged upon Dubois, but his new mutant freakish friends as well!"
"Then, come with me. Soon, we shall have our revenge. For now, the sun's about to rise and we will need to rest. But, first here is something to assuage the hunger eating at you," the Enforcer indicated, handing him a big bottle.
Eckhart guzzled the bottle's contents. The liquid was sweet and sticky yet it cooled the fire burning deep within him. "Thank you. That is much better."
With that, Ali closed the shades, allowing himself and his charge to rest. He was already impressed with the fledgling's composure in the face of the First Hunger. While this one would never replace Dijon, he would be an awesome avenger indeed.
To Ali, that was all that mattered.
THE END (for now)
(**I hope you liked this piece! As soon as I finish with a vignette I'm working on, I'll be onto the next one. The GSA gets its revenge, but wait'll you see what Dave and the others do in response! (And you thought the Child was behaving better these days!!) Remember, if you want updates to the storyline first, you can join the "DuboisChroniclesUpdates at YahooGroups. Thanks for your interest!**)