Just Once
David J. Duncan

Chapter 8


Above the events on Earth, Michael observed them through the view portal. "So, he finally acts."

"He's being cautious, Michael," Raphael observed at his side.

"And he still has his scruples," Lorenzo pointed out. "His conscience won't permit a foolhardy expedition."

"And yet, the Child yearns for it, Lorenzo," Michael argued.

"The Child wants revenge for a situation that-with all due respect-you provoked, Michael," Lorenzo countered. "In addition, you have revealed another piece of his lineage to him."

"Yes. Well, he's an exile no longer," the blond archangel surmised. "If he survives this clash, he will have the chance to rule in his true role. Don't say I haven't done him any favors."

And what of the blood on his conscience? How will that affect him? Thinking that, the deceased grandfather continued to watch the events unfolding below.


[Mount Olympus]

Ares stood against the back wall of the gods' temple, musing over the unfolding drama. While the majority of his followers had answered the summons, Rome had remained silent. Octavius still remembers my role in Livia's rebellion. Once this situation is resolved, I'll teach him a lesson he will never forget.

"There's still time, Ares," Aphrodite informed him.

"Time for what?" he inquired.

"Time to end this mess," she said hopefully. "Time to set things right."

He snickered ruefully. "You've been into that strong wine again, Sis? It's already too late. Athena and the others thought the threat would be ended with Xena's death as well as Eve's."

"I opposed their plans too, remember?" the love goddess inquired. "Dubois' desperation won't be denied."

"That's one way of putting it," he concurred. "Still, Athena has commanded that we go to war. I'm not prepared to say no to her over this. I do think, however, a little caution is needed, especially given Dubois' dark side."

"What of it, Bro?" Athena wondered. "He caught us off guard before. We'll be ready next time."

"Famous last words, Sis," Ares countered. "You haven't seen him fight. I have. We should try to talk with him."

"The god of war running away from a fight? With a mortal no less? Ares, this is rich!" Athena laughed.

"Hey!" he bellowed. "I'm no coward! But, unlike you, I'm not an idiot either! Trust me, this mortal isn't your typical warrior! And he won't be coming alone either."

"That's why we have our troops," the head goddess asserted.

"And he has his friends too," he argued.

"Whatever, Ares. Just be ready to fight when the time comes. Or we might question your desires as well. Perhaps your feelings for Xena are clouding your judgment?"

"Leave her outta this!" he snarled indignantly. "I know what I have to do. I'm just not in a hurry to commit suicide is all."

"Both of you remember your places when the time comes," Athena repeated, disappearing into thin air.

He looked at Aphrodite and shook his head. This is gonna get messy. Real messy.


Chapter 9 [Kent Farm, Smallville-Two hours after meeting with Grimwilkin and Ferali]

Dave stood by the back fence of the Kents' property, watching the grass sway in the breeze. From Sanctuary, he, the twins, and Adam had stopped in Tucson to get Nick and Garth as well as their gear before heading to the Midwest. For the twins' sake, he decided to keep them here. If the gods attacked, it would be in Tucson. If they strike here, I'm sure Clark and the others will give them a reception they won't forget.

Looking at the sky, he saw a line of gray on the horizon. Storm clouds are brewing. Fitting omen.

"They say the air changes before a storm," Lex declared. "I guess that's true in more ways than one."

Dave glanced at his long time friend skeptically. "Since when did you become the weather man?"

"Having a father such as mine or yours will do that to you," the billionaire replied. "But then, that's why you're about to go off on this crusade, aren't you?"

"Lex, the world always tries to take what's yours. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself," the professor stated.

"My sentiments exactly. Nice outfit by the way. Practicing what you preach, I see?"

Dave frowned. "This isn't reenactment stuff. This is real war. Beings get hurt. Beings die. As much as the kids like to think otherwise, life isn't about rainbows and happy endings."

"It isn't all about darkness and strife either, Dave. True, you've seen more than your share, but remember, there are those who would help you share the burden."

Dave stared at Lex, thinking of what to say to the younger man. "Being a king means being alone."

"No man is an island, especially when you have able counselors. Your gnome buddy for one and then, there are the others. Finally, I know a certain bald businessman who kicks ass with his strategies," Lex retorted.

Dave managed a grin at the last comment. "Oh really? And what would he tell me now?"

"Be careful, kick ass, finish this business, and bring Angie and yourself back here safely. Don't worry, Karen, the students, and I can watch things here. Now, come on, it's time. Streaker's waiting," the businessman directed.

"Right," Dave sighed, opening a mist portal. "After you."

His friend walked into the fog and he followed, heading for the barn.


As he paced around in back of the Kents' barn, Nick felt anxious about the situation. Despite the Faerie Empress' protective dust, he remained uncertain about walking about in the afternoon sunshine. While it felt liberating to do so, his instincts screamed at him to run for cover. Is it the sun or the threat of more war? His heart felt heavy. At least the students won't be exposed to the main front.

Taking a deep breath, he walked over toward the main group.


Adam looked over his charges with a practiced eye. Since founding Mutant X, he had come up with ways to enhance the team members' abilities. Brennan had his insulated gloves. Jesse had a mini-breathing apparatus, allowing him to phase and mass for long periods of time. Shalimar and Max had light yet impenetrable tunics. Emma had a bracelet that projected a protective field about herself, preventing other empaths from using her sensitivity against her.

"Hopefully, this gear will put the odds in your favor, guys. I don't have to tell you to watch out, but this is a full scale battle you're going into," the geneticist cautioned.

"We've been there before, Adam," Brennan replied.

"Not like this, you haven't," Dave asserted as he and Lex approached. "You aren't going to be on the main front. You're coming with me to take on the Pantheon." Seeing their surprise, he queried, "Do you really think I would walk in there without backup?"

"The Child would," Emma informed him.

"I'm not the Child though," the medievalist disagreed. "And these are some serious characters we're going up against."

"Like that Ares guy from the database?" Shalimar wondered.

"He's one of them. Yes." Dave growled slightly, as he paced about.

"Nice armor, Dave," Adam complimented.

"Thanks. Take a good look because it's one of the few times you'll see it here on Outer Earth. I can do this only under extreme circumstances," the medievalist explained as he checked his bow, arrows and sword. Well, we really need to get going."

"You got it," Garth agreed as he trudged forward in his elf armor and the cloak of invisibility hanging down his back. "Just like old times, huh?"

"Hey, we have a job to do. Go in. Kick the bad guys' butts. Save the girl. Party afterwards," Dave deadpanned sarcastically, hiding his own anxiousness.

"Just come back safely, all right?" Clark requested from the porch where he, his parents, and classmates watched the troops.

"We will," Dave agreed. God willing. Putting two fingers to his mouth, he whistled two piercing notes into the pasture.

In response, Streaker galloped rapidly toward them. Like lightning, he whizzed across the space, his hooves barely touching the ground.

"Thank you, my friend," Dave expressed as he climbed on the black Andalusian's back and opened the portal. "Okay, guys, the bus is leaving!"

Mutant X, Garth, and Nick walked into the mists, disappearing from view.

Dave took a last look at his friends and students before vowing, "I will bring them back with me." With that, he vanished into the mists as well, leaving no trace behind.

For a minute, the remaining onlookers stared at the point where the group had vanished. Granted, their world had remained the same so far. However, if the others had failed, what consequences would the inaction have on them and everything else?


Chapter 10 [Assembled troops' camp-Base of Mount Etna, Italy]

LaCroix paced impatiently about the complex. Granted, he knew that all things took time to develop, however he expected Dave and the others to be there by that point. I thought he wanted this revenge as well.

"He'll be here," Cybelle advised, stepping forward to meet him.

"Yes, well...he's certainly taking his time deciding about whether to do so," he retorted tersely.

"Some of us actually have a conscience, Lucius. Something that you might want to remember," she jabbed.

He shook his head. "Consciences don't get us anywhere, Cybelle!"

"In some things, they do. Think. Would you want to lead these troops to their doom? I don't think so!" she snapped. "Dave's being careful. I'm sure he's gathering allies. In fact..." She gazed to the camp's eastern edge.

Through the mists, Mutant X, Garth and Nick stepped into view followed by Dave and Garth on horseback.

"If you'll excuse me," she said, turning toward her brother. "Hey, Dave, you're five minutes late."

"So sue me," the medievalist replied grimly, dismounting. "How are we looking?"

"Everyone's ready to go on our signal," she reported. "Thank you all for coming."

"You know me. Meroli calls. I come," Garth noted.

"And we're happy to stand by Dave this time," Shalimar agreed. "Besides Max can stand a little live action."

"You've got that right," the other feral agreed.

"Don't worry. You'll get your chance soon enough," Dave assured her. "When are we meeting?"

"Follow me," the priestess urged. "The others are waiting."

"Be right back," the medievalist told the others, walking toward the red tent. Inside, the other leaders analyzed the battlefield and the anticipated opponents. "Sorry to keep you waiting."

"We're just getting started," Varia stated. "I was just telling the others that our scouts have seen Cleopatra's guard, several temple armies, as well as those men still loyal to the old gods massing at the base of Mount Olympus. They're slightly above 300,000 in number."

"We outnumber them more than 2 to 1. Still, we should take care of the gods first," LaCroix indicated.

"Not to mention the Furies," the Amazon queen pointed out. "They'll be waiting for you up in the temple as well."

"Let them," Cybelle declared. "We have our own secret weapon against them."

"We do?" Meroli asked.

"Indeed. They can only deal out madness and persecution. And who do we know like that?" Grimwilkin pointed out.

They all looked at Dave.

"They won't stop me," he told them all. "And they won't stop the Child. Anyhow, are the priestesses in position?"

"They are. They're ready to transport our troops," Cybelle agreed. "What about Mutant X?"

"They're coming with me. LaCroix, I'm trusting you and Nick to lead the troops on the ground. Ferali, you will lead the Ruthvenians in my absence," Dave stated.

The General curled his lip angrily. He wanted a shot at Ares personally. Still, he could see Dave's point. "Very well," he relented.

"We'll be ready," the gnome agreed. "Garth, ready for a fight?"

"Always. You may not see me, but I'll be there," the agent concurred.

"Very well then," Meroli concluded. "Prepare the troops. We move out within the hour."


Sure enough, the entire legion stood assembled and ready at the camp's edge in just over an hour. Everyone stood in formation.

To the right, the main force tensed. After barely setting aside old differences, the troops stood shoulder to shoulder. At the head, Ferali, Nick, Garth, and LaCroix sat on their steeds ready to charge.

On the left, Dave and Mutant X awaited the signal as well.

"These are really the Greek gods?" Max asked in disbelief.

"They are...soon to be they were," Dave told her. "Ready?" Seeing nods from his friends, he pointed to Cybelle. "Let's go!"

"Take care, Dave. I'll be up there as soon as I can be," the priestess vowed, signaling to the others in her order.

As one, the priestesses opened a massive portal, allowing the army access to the battle site.

"Dubois, teach Ares some respect!" LaCroix yelled as he vanished into the mists.

"Count on it!" the medievalist bellowed back as the portal disappeared. Opening another doorway, he told the others, "It's time to kick some major league ass!" Ushering them all through, he closed the gateway behind them.

Now there was no turning back.


Chapter 11

[Army camp-Base of Mount Olympus]

Even as the allied army moved through the mists toward them, the gods' forces relaxed, not thinking that their enemies would arrive anytime soon. As a result, the troops relaxed despite their masters' orders.

"It's a beautiful night, isn't it, Marcellius?" the general, a man by the name of Rogelius, wondered.

"It is, sir. Was it on a night like this that you served with General Lucius?" Marcellius asked.

"It was indeed," the leader recalled. "We wiped out those heathen priestesses like so much straw before a scythe. The Amazons fell to us as well."

"General!" a cavalryman reported. "Mist coming!"

The leader looked to the west of the encampment to see the fog creeping over the mountains. "It is a cool night after all."

"Not that cool. With all due respect, sir, we should get the men ready. Certainly your time with the General indicated as much."

"Lucius was a jumpy fool. After Pompeii, we'll never have to worry about his ilk again."

"No?" a familiar voice asked from the thickening mist. "Loyalty, it seems, is overrated."

Marcellius' eyes bulged as he spun to face the immortalized form of his former commander. "G...general? But how?"

"As you die, you'll find out!" LaCroix hissed, vamping out and drinking deeply from his former subordinate. Dropping the now dead commander to the turf, he scoffed, "Fool, am I? The joke's indeed on you and those pathetic godlings." With that, he remounted his horse and rode off toward the developing fray.


Meantime, Ferali and Nick had charged their adversaries' main line, catching them unprepared. Many of the latter didn't even have a chance to put on their armor or grab their weapons before the allies' forces surrounded and captured them. After only ten minutes, the Pantheon was alone.

"Good work," Ferali complimented the troops. "And thanks to our allies, the way is clear for David and Mutant X to complete the mission."

Good luck, guys. Garth sighed, looking up the mountain toward the clouds obscuring the top.


[Pantheon's temple]

Artemis slipped back into the temple, aghast at the sight below. Our best fighters and followers defeated without a single sword clash! How can that be? Making her way down three marble-lined halls, the archer-goddess entered the main hall.

The remaining gods looked at her discontentedly.

"I told ya, Sis," Ares snarled angrily. The defeat of his greatest fighting force irritated him to no end, especially in this fashion and to these particular adversaries.

"We'll deal with the mortals, Ares," Athena replied curtly, rubbing her head impatiently. "No matter the size, this is our domain."

"Besides, Uncle, we have enough fire power to deal with Dubois too!" Deimos cackled.

Ares glowered at his nephew, growling, "Think, you fool! This mortal pest isn't going to leave us alone! Trust me. He'll come here. Get ready."

"Whatever," Deimos dismissed sarcastically. No mortal was going to get the better of them in a fight, especially on their turf and with them prepared.

The Furies looked about with interest, their senses picking up on a sudden burst of extreme emotion.

Finally, the blonde leader stated, "This is odd. We have never felt a disturbance such as this!"

The gods turned to see the mists form in the corner.

From them, Dave and Mutant X stepped into the room.

"Well, well, a party and nobody invited us," the medievalist cracked, looking around. "Spread out, guys." Seeing the war god, he deadpanned, "Hey, Ares. You need some help on the interior decorating around here."

That's it! "Like it's gonna matter to you!" the war god retorted, throwing caution to the wind and a fire ball at him.

Jesse jumped in front of Dave and massed out, allowing the flames to bounce off of himself.

"Nice save. Thanks," the professor stated. "But now, I'm really ticked!" Generating a pulse of his own, he blasted Ares into the far wall. "Stay put!"

"Furies!" Athena bellowed.

The scantily clad trio cackled with amusement. "Hear us! This mortal has attacked several gods. We punish him with persecution and madness!" The blonde Fury raised her fist and gave the "thumbs-down" signal.

Dave quivered a bit, feeling their energies rip at his mind. "GRRARRAGH!" He held his head in his hands as his personalities flip-flopped.

"That was a big mistake!" Emma yelled, mentally blasting the trio and disrupting the process.

"Ya'll can say that 'gain!" the Child sniggered, the smile spreading across his face. "Hey, Sweets, Ah got news fer ya! Ah am pain an' anger! Ah'm perse-whatever ya'll said an' sharin' time with Big Bro.! Ya'll can't hurt us! But Ah can hurt ya'll!" Pointing at the trio, fire came from his hands, scorching them badly.

A second later, the Furies fell to the floor, burned to death.

"Who's next?" the Child growled. Turning to his allies, he ordered, "Git 'em!"

The new mutants approached their adversaries warily, not knowing what to expect.

Artemis fired shaft after shaft at Max and Shalimar, the latter dodging each one and keeping her busy.

Brennan went electrobolt to electrobolt with Ares.

Emma matched Athena, pulse for pulse.

Deimos cackled maniacally and threw himself at the Child. "You're dead!"

The Dark One smirked and firing his bow, buried a shaft deep in the deity's chest, dropping him like a bad habit. "'Nother one bites the dust. What's he-God of Jackasses?"

"God of chaos actually," Ares corrected darkly, firing another blast, knocking Brennan across the room. "And my nephew!"

"Life's a bitch!" the Child snapped, returning fire and driving his enemy backward. "Deal w' it!" Willing up another mega blast, he uncorked on the war god, driving him through the wall and leaving the latter badly wounded. "Stay put!"

"Hey, how about some help over here?" Max yelled, connecting with a kick to Artemis' midsection and stunning the latter for a minute.

"Whine, whine, whine," he growled. "Crap!" He fired another fire blast, taking out Artemis as well. "Some people do all of the work!"

From where she was fighting Emma, the head goddess saw that she was alone. "Get away from me!" she yelled, blasting the psionic aside with a vicious pulse. Willing up another blast, she prepared to finish off the red-headed mortal.

"Ya shouldn't of done that, Bitch!" the Child growled, firing a blast of his own and knocking the goddess back.

"No mortal does that to me!" she snapped, flying toward him.

The Child laughed. "You're jus' too easy!" Throwing five arrows in the air, he telekinetically fired them in her direction.

Athena dodged them all with ease. Unfortunately in doing so, she backed right into another fire blast. "Un...believ...able," she coughed, hitting the ground.

He glowered at his companions while stalking around the room. "Ya'll okay?"

"Yeah," Brennan replied, holding his arm.

"We'll live," Shalimar added.

"That was something else," Jesse stated, scratching his head.

"Ya'll did good," the Child complimented, helping Emma up from the floor. "How are ya doin'?"

"Umm...I have a headache. Otherwise, I'm fine," the psionic advised him. "What's going on? Are the gods...?"

"They're dead, 'cept fer Ares and Aphiedite," the Dark One informed her.

"Well done indeed," Cybelle agreed, entering the room and admiring the handiwork. "Still, Ares won't go along with this."

"Maybe I ain't got a choice," Ares croaked, staggering back into the room. "I can see when the deck's not in my favor. Besides, I cut a deal of my own. "

"Deal? What friggin' deal?" the Child growled.

"I keep my powers and immortality in exchange for giving up the god thing. Sounds good to me," the former war god reported. "Hey, it's the best deal I can get."

"And you should be reunited with your wife and friends," Aphrodite added, materializing in the corner. "I made the same deal. Just do me a favor, guys? Say hi to Xena and Gabrielle? And a note to David when he comes to-love won't be denied." She supported her brother and advised, "Come on, Ares. Let's get you to a place where you can rest. See you all later." With that, the two immortals vanished.

"That's incredible. To think we just took on the Greek gods," Jesse said in disbelief.

"Yes, you did," the priestess replied, opening the portal. "Let's go. The others are waiting for us."

The others stepped through and vanished from the scene.

As she followed, Cybelle mused, Despite the gods' best efforts, the age of monotheism will come about. Out with the old and in with the new, no matter what it costs us all. With that, she stepped into the misty doorway, vanishing from sight.


Chapter 12 [Battle site-Base of Mount Olympus---twenty minutes later]

LaCroix inspected the prisoners with a satisfied eye. To think they thought they could get along without me. He grinned, thinking of several possible penalties for the defeated troops.

"Ferali and the others have decided to release them when Dave and the others get back," Nick informed him.

"Really? Fools. They deserve death for their misguided allegiance," the General asserted.

"LaCroix, let it drop! The gods are dead," the former Crusader stated.

His former master's eyebrow arched. "Really? That link of yours again, I trust?"

Nick nodded. "The Child just finished them off."

"You lie!" one of the captive centurions, a burly dark skinned warrior, snapped.

"No," Nick disagreed. "I felt my friend change after what the Furies did to him. Then, he and the Special Ones finished the job. Accept it. This is the start of a new age."

"New age indeed," LaCroix snickered. "Really, Nicholas, you are such a fool." With that, the General stalked off, leaving Nick to tie up those loose ends.


Ferali paced about the inside of his tent. He anxiously awaited his honor brother's return along with the latter's comrades. I knew I should have gone with him.

"Settle down," Meroli advised. "David and the others will be fine. He has survived worse trials than this one."

But at what cost? "I know, but I am still worried."

"Worry no longer," Cybelle told them, entering the tent along with Dave and Mutant X. "It's done. Ares and Aphrodite have accepted Eli's terms and relinquished their rank as gods in exchange for keeping their powers and immortality. The other gods and the Furies are dead."

"We win, I guess," Dave sighed, sitting down on the ground.

"What do you mean, 'you guess'? Hey, we won!" Max disagreed.

The medievalist looked at her sadly. "Until Francesca, Eve, Xena, Gabrielle, and Angie are safe, it's meaningless, okay?"

"Hey," Emma reassured him. "Have faith. You fulfilled your end of the bargain."

"Life isn't fair, Emma. Still, I hope you're right." Turning to the Inner Earth leaders, he asked, "What happened here?"

"We ambushed the camp and captured them all without a single casualty," Eadmer reported.

"That's good at least," Dave replied. "You were going to release them, right?"

"That was the idea," Ferali concurred.

"Do it," the medievalist declared. "There's been enough blood spilled for one day."

"I'll let the Amazons know," Cybelle indicated, disappearing into a portal and letting the others collect their thoughts.


Three hours later, the prisoners marched away from the site, heading for their homes and looking to leave the scene of their defeat behind. Still, the mercy shown to them by the allies did make an impression on them. While the gods would have killed them all for their failure, these victors differed in their approach. Perhaps, the blond haired one in the strange armor was right. Perhaps this was the start of a new age.


From the camp's edge, the assembled leaders observed their former prisoners' march. While some might have wanted more forceful means exerted in that instance, the way of peace appealed to them all.

"That's it then?" Varia asked.

"Unless you know of something else we haven't attended to," LaCroix retorted.

"I know we still have business, Butcher!" the Amazon regent snapped. "I hope we meet again, Lucius of Pompeii. I haven't forgotten what you and Livia did to my sisters!"

"Livia is your princess. It seems you have forgotten that," the General snarled.

"I forget nothing. Eve repents for her past. I've forgiven her for those crimes and she continues to win my trust. You should repent as well," Varia growled. "But I won't ruin the spirit of what we've accomplished today through bickering." Seeing the Amazon tribes assembled behind her, she requested, "Cybelle, can you?"

The high priestess nodded, opening a portal.

"Thank you. Please accept the thanks of the Amazon sisterhood for your help, everyone. Hopefully, our queen, counselor, and princess will soon be returned to us. And, David?"

"Yes?" the historian asked.

"Our apologies for not accepting you earlier. Safe wishes for your return to your own time and for the resurrection of our friends. You have proven yourself a valuable ally," Varia continued.

"Thank you," Dave accepted. "And I wish you the same as well."

Varia smiled warmly, embracing the medievalist for a moment. Then, she straightened herself and told him, "If you need help, just ask." With that, she led the assembled Amazon tribes into the mists, vanishing from sight.

"It's time for us to leave as well," Eadmer stated, looking at the combined armies from the Inner Realms. "Once again, it was an honor to fight alongside you, David and Garth."

The agent nodded and smiled. "As it was for us, Eadmer. See you soon!"

"Indeed," Meroli agreed. "We await you both as well as your young friends."

"And your subjects will always await you, my friend and liege," Ferali concurred.

Dave replied, "I know that. And I will be there in the near future. Even as my involvement with my native home continues, I am committed to insuring the safe future of Ruthwen as well."

"That's all we can ask, my Brother," Ferali accepted, embracing him tightly. "See you soon." Getting onto his horse, he motioned for the grand army to prepare to disembark."

The priestesses opened another portal, allowing them to march back into the plains of Joltenheim.

After that, they created still one more gateway for their Roman allies.

"Forward!" LaCroix commanded, raising his short sword and leading the legions into the mists back toward Mount Etna.

When the portals had closed, Deirdre rubbed her father's arm, asking, "Are you okay, Papa?"

"I guess," he replied, trying to cover up his emotions. "Funny, I was expecting your mother and the others to reappear. That sort of stuff doesn't happen in real life, does it?"

"They have to honor their agreement with you, Dave," Emma assured him.

"I want to believe you, Emma, but I can only hope that you're right," the historian remarked, hugging his daughter tightly. "Come on, let's go home."

Cybelle took out the crystal necklace and opened the mists once more. "Go ahead, Dave. That portal will lead to the Kent farm. Deirdre, please accompany him."

He smiled as he mounted Streaker and held his hand down to his daughter. "Want a ride, Dee-Dee?"

She accepted the boost and put her arms around his waist. "Thanks, Papa."

He grinned and told Cybelle. "Thanks." With that, they rode off into the mists, disappearing from view.

The priestess waved Nick through.

"Thank you. See you soon...and I'll keep an eye on him as well," the archaeologist agreed before following the others.

Hopefully, Michael will hold his end of the bargain. I don't want to think how Dave's going to hold himself together without Angie. With that, she stepped into the mists and closed the door behind her, leaving no traces of the invading force behind.


Chapter 13 [Kent farm-Smallville]

Jonathan and Martha closed Melissa's door quietly. During that terrible afternoon of waiting, they had tried everything to reassure Lauren and Karen. Fortunately, their daughter had played with them, giving the twins something to take their mind off of the troubles at hand.

Entering the living room, they found Clark, Lana, Lex, and Chloe, not to mention Byron and Sandra sitting there and talking quietly amongst themselves.

"How are they doing?" Lana asked.

"They finally went to sleep," Martha replied, slumping into a chair. "I'm so grateful that Melissa took it on herself to be with them."

Clark managed a smile. Missy's been through quite a bit herself. "She's a special kid."

His parents looked at each other with satisfaction. When they adopted Melissa, they had wondered how Clark would take to her. When he eagerly assumed the big brother role, they were relieved.

"That she is, Clark," his father concurred. "She does her chores, never complains, and strangely enough...she always seems to make it to the school bus on time."

"Unlike a certain someone with super speed," Chloe cracked.

Lex smirked. "I'm not touching that one."

Clark flushed slightly and shrugged. "I wasn't aware that tardiness was so noteworthy."

"It isn't unless you raise it to an art form," his fiancée laughed wryly.

"That's our Clark," his mother joked. "So fast, yet so slow."

At that moment, they heard hoof beats from the pasture. "Riders now?"

Jonathan stepped onto the front porch and looked toward the barn to see Dave and Deirdre dismounting from Streaker's back. Beside them, Garth, Nick, and Mutant X kept watch.

Sticking his head back in the door, the farmer requested, "Martha, can you get a couple more cups out? They're back!"

The others stood up anxiously, eager to hear news of the battle.

Slowly, the new mutants, Nick, and Garth made their way into the house and found seats where they could do so. Receiving hot steaming cups of java goodness from Martha, the newcomers managed to relax.

"Is it over?" Martha asked.

Nick replied, "The fight was a short one. Our armies defeated theirs without a single casualty thanks to the priestesses."

"Our sneak attack caught them completely by surprise," Garth added.

"And the gods?" Clark wondered.

Brennan scratched his head. "They're finished."

"Finished?" Lex asked.

"Dave flipped and took them out. All but two of them," Jesse continued. "Apparently the latter two made some sort of deal with a higher power. The others...well...they messed with his head and paid for it."

"You said gods, right? So how can he deal with them?" Jonathan inquired.

"Something happened to him back in Tucson, Dad," Clark pointed out. "One of them hit him with a blast and he went super freaky."

"I was going to ask if that had happened before," Chloe interjected.

"Once before-up in Wabash," Emma explained. "But that was right after the explosion. Both times we managed to get him calmed down."

"I hope that Dr. Dubois somehow comes back. Otherwise, I'm not looking forward to dealing with him," Lana told the others.

"Well, we'll just have to do what we can," Lex assured her. Seeing Deirdre walk into the house, he asked, "Where's your Dad?"

"He's in the barn loft, thinking about things," the priestess sighed. "He didn't want to depress you all with his moods. Where are my sisters? I wanted to look in on them if I could."

"Follow me," Martha said, leading Deirdre up the stairs toward Melissa's room.

"Meantime, I'm going to check on Dave," the businessman suggested. "I'll try to have him back here in a few minutes."


Dave sat on the old couch up in the loft, staring at the stars. He knew that he should be checking on the twins, but he wanted to work through his moods first. Despite the herbs Cybelle had given him and the realization sinking in, he couldn't believe that it was happening...that Angie wasn't there with them. What do I tell them when they ask where Mama is? Hell, I can't even deal with this. Picking up a pebble, he stood up and threw it far into the cornfield.

"That's some arm you've got there," Lex complimented.

"Frustration adds distance, Lex," Dave grumbled, wiping a tear away.

The billionaire sat on the couch next to him. "You know, that was some feat you pulled off, taking out the Greek gods."

"Yeah. Another day, another fight for the Child," the professor muttered. "I just wish that people didn't view me as a target."

Lex smirked. "As long as you try to make a difference, Dave, you're going to be a target. As I've told you before, get used to it."

"Lex, how would you handle things if let's say...it were Chloe instead of Angie who were dead? You can't tell me you'd be feeling differently."

The businessman frowned, feeling the barn starting to shake around him.

"Cool it, Chief. Now," the professor hissed.

"No, I would feel exactly the way you do. I hope though that you can remember what Angie would want. She would want you to go comfort your daughters and be a good dad to them. The kind of father that you and I didn't have growing up." Lex realized after he calmed down enough to bring his abilities under control.

"I feel so used and dirty. I wish I wouldn't have had to go charging into Olympus to do Michael's dirty work, but there it is. I had to do it. Now, I guess I need to move on, huh?"

"You do. Hang on to the good times with her, Dave, and be with your daughters," Lex urged.

Dave took a deep breath and got up. "Let's go. I have to check on them."

"Lead on," the businessman concurred.

Dave smiled and headed down the stairs, hurrying for the farmhouse. Once inside, he inquired, "Hi, everyone. Sorry to be so abrupt, but can I check on the twins? Then I can answer your questions."

"Sure," Martha agreed. "Deirdre's with them. Follow me." She led him up the stairs and around the corner to Melissa's room. The door was slightly ajar and voices came out of the room behind it.

"Dee-Dee, when's Papa comin'?" Karen's voice asked.

"Soon, Karen. Soon," Deirdre replied. "He needed to do some thinking first."

"Is he okay? We wanna see him," Lauren's voice whimpered. "We know he's moody and stuff, but we just want to say it's okay. We love him just the way he is."

"He knows that, Kiddo," Deirdre's voice assured them.

Back out in the hall, Martha saw Dave sulking again. "What is it?"

"I'm so selfish. I wanted to make sure that I was composed and all. The girls wouldn't have cared," he told her.

"It's part of being a good parent. You want to put up a positive front. I think you just need to go to them is all."

He nodded and knocked on the door. "Thanks, Martha."

Her eyes shone at him. "My pleasure. Take your time."

He nodded and walked into the room.

After he did so, she headed back downstairs to rejoin the others. He needs this quality time with his daughters. Maybe they can help each other.


Dave stepped into the room and saw the four girls sitting in a circle, talking to each other. "Mind if I jump in too?" he asked hopefully.

The twins spun around eagerly, hearing his voice confirmed what their senses had told them seconds earlier. "Papa! You're back!" They practically jumped into his arms.

"You didn't think I was going to leave you girls alone, did you?" he inquired, sitting on the bed. "You know I would never do that."

"We know you don't wanna, but look at Mama," Lauren retorted.

"Your mother will find her way back to us if she can, Lauren. As for the moment, well-we have each other. I'm not letting any of you go," he declared, letting them sit in his lap and hugging them tightly.

"I'll let you have a moment with them," Deirdre said, ushering Melissa out.

"And where are you two going?" he chuckled. "I didn't say you could leave."

The four girls looked at him quizzically.

"I have room for all four of you here. Melissa, well, I know you're not my daughter, but you're a friend. And we consider good friends like family. Don't we, girls?"

His three daughters nodded vigorously and smiled.

"Thank you," Melissa accepted, climbing up on the bed beside the others. "It's nice to be accepted, especially since you stood up to that mean social worker for me."

"My pleasure," he told her. "You're a good girl, Melissa. I'm glad that you have a good home."

For the rest of the night, the quintet huddled together, falling to sleep in each other's arms.


Chapter 14 [Next morning]

Dave stirred at sunrise and eased himself out of the group embrace. Sleep well, kids. Creeping out of the room, he made his way downstairs and into the kitchen area. Seeing Jonathan and Martha talking at the table, he greeted, "Good morning."

"There you are," Jonathan replied, giving their guest a big smile. "How's everything this morning?"

"I feel better knowing that the girls are safe," Dave told them somberly.

"I'm sure," Martha agreed. "I hope you don't mind if we left you alone to talk with them."

"Thanks," Dave responded. "We needed some parent-kid bonding. I hope you don't mind if Melissa was in on the conversation. She's such a good kid, and you know how I feel about close friends."

Jonathan nodded. "We do. She actually came down after the three of you fell asleep to let us know what happened up there. You did a good thing last night."

"Being a good father to my daughters is something Angie would want," the medievalist declared. "I'm glad that some good came out of yesterday." At that moment, he looked toward the barn. "I must be dreaming!"

"What? What is it?" Martha wondered. "Should we get Clark?"

"I don't think so!" Dave exclaimed, bolting out the door and across the yard to the barn. There, he found Argo II and two other horses stabled next to Streaker. "Argo! So that would mean?"

"That would mean we're back?" Eve asked, stepping into view. She grinned broadly.

"Eve! You're okay!" he exclaimed, hugging her. "It's good to see you!"

"You too," she agreed.

"How about us?" Gabrielle wondered as she and Xena approached him.

He smiled warmly as he embraced the Amazon queen and the Warrior Princess tightly. "It's good to see you both all right!"

"Likewise," Xena replied, returning the embrace.

He looked around; making sure that nobody else was out there before querying, "So...umm...Francesca and Angie, are they okay?"

"They're fine," Gabrielle declared.

"But I don't think I'm gonna keep Angela waiting any longer," the warrior agreed, sheathing her sword and concentrating.

A minute later, Angie stood in front of him, her eyes glistening with tears and a gigantic smile on her face.

"Princess, is that?" he wondered, not believing his eyes.

"What do you think, Dummy?" she sassed, hugging him tightly.

"I didn't know what to think. It feels so good to hold you," he told her, the tears flowing down his face. "I love you." He kissed her passionately. Thank you!

"We saw what you did at the temple," Gabrielle told him. "That was some trick."

"Thank our friends. Once again, they came to the rescue," he told them.

"It's our pleasure," Clark's voice assured them.

They turned to see Clark and his parents standing in the barn door.

"Thank you, everyone," Eve expressed. "Sorry about the scene."

"No problem," Martha declared. "We have breakfast going if you're hungry."

"Sure," Angie accepted. "I just want to do two things first." After kissing her husband again, she requested, "Can we see the girls?"

"Absolutely," Dave concurred, hugging her shoulders. "Come on. You too, Gabrielle and Eve!"

The two Amazons went with the couple into the house and up the stairs.

Once they reached Melissa's room, Dave knocked softly and stuck his head inside to see Lauren, Karen and Deirdre just waking up.

"Papa?" the latter asked sleepily. "What is it?"

"There's someone who wants to see you all," he told her, opening the door.

The priestess's eyes bulged. "Mama! You're back!" She embraced the older woman tightly. "Guys, wake up!"

The twins rolled over and wondered what the ruckus was about. As things blurred into focus, they realized why everyone was so excited. "Mama!" they chorused, running to their mother.

"It feels so good to hold you all!" Angie exclaimed, hugging them tightly to herself. "You have no idea how much I missed you!"

"And we missed you!" the three girls told her.

"I know," the oncologist affirmed. Casting a caring look at their father, she kissed the three of them. "Now, let's go get some breakfast. I have some mother-daughter minutes to catch up on here."

The three sisters followed her down the stairs and to the table where Martha's splendid cooking and some great fellowship awaited.




Michael shook his head tersely. He wasn't supposed to have succeeded. How did he do it?

"Leave it alone, Michael," Raphael advised, stepping into the area. "You've tested him. Dubois passed and discovered two more parts to himself."

"Indeed. I hope he can handle them," Michael retorted sourly.

"Let him try to do so. He's worthy. You did withdraw the penalty from him, didn't you?"

"Yes, Raphael," Michael sighed. "Don't enjoy this too much."

"I'm not. But neither should you," the ebon-haired archangel admonished.

"I won't." Watch yourself, Dubois. For I will be watching you.


[The Talon-that evening]

Lana and Miranda closed and locked the doors to the café after a busy day. In addition to the usual student traffic from the high school, their mutant classmates and Mutant X stopped by with Deirdre's assistance. In between the cappuccinos and biscotti, everyone marveled at the latest adventure shared by Dave and the others.

"You actually took them all on?" Samantha asked. "No offense, Professor, but they were the Greek gods."

"He and Mutant X did actually," Angie responded. Seeing the surprised looks all around her, she noted, "Francesca, Eve, and I saw the whole thing."

"Thank the Child," Emma added, sipping a cup of tea. "He finished them all off. We just kept them busy."

"From what His Darkness tells me, it was a team effort," Dave retorted, enjoying his chocolate frap. "Just like at the university." He looked at Clark, Chloe and Lana and complimented, "You did well against the Pantheon, working as a team and protecting your classmates. You should be proud of yourselves."

"We try," Chloe replied, trying to sound relaxed.

"We were just putting those Dojo sessions to use," Clark added.

"I don't know if they're that intense, Clark," Lana disagreed.

The other students shook their heads. Adam worked them all hard, preparing them for every potential situation.

"What matters is that you used your heads and weathered the threat. Then you came to get me," Adam disagreed. "Listen to Professor Dubois."

"If you say so," the former cheerleader grudgingly accepted.

"Trust me," Lex assured them. "You all are quite a force."

"Thanks, Luthor," his fiancée teased. "Actually, we're a force together."

"Speaking of being together," Francesca asked. "Who is Eve calling?"

The group looked at the Religion professor who was over in the corner, speaking into her cell phone.

"I don't know," Angie replied. "I wonder who she's talking to?"

I have an idea, but let her do it. He helped out too...as much as I hate to admit it. With that, Dave took another sip from his drink and turned back to the conversation at hand.


[CERK Radio-Toronto]

LaCroix savored a glass of bloodwine and considered the previous two days' events. Once again, he had led his legions on a successful raid, avenging Pompeii's destruction and his sister's death. He admired how Nick assisted in planning the attack. He's definitely becoming a leader.

Seeing the light flash on his console, he flipped the switch and started into his show. "Good evening, Gentle Listeners. This is the Nightcrawler-back to walk the night with you for a time. Tonight's show deals with helping family. Have you done so? The lines are open." Seeing the lines light up, he selected the first call. "You are on the air."

"Lucius?" a familiar voice inquired.

Livia? So she did make it back. "Yes, my Dear. Welcome back. When did you return?"

"This morning," she responded. "I wanted to thank you for your help."

"My pleasure. It was great to see our home again, was it not?" the Elder inquired.

"It was. Mother also says thank you," the former Messenger expressed.

LaCroix smirked. I wish I could have heard Xena say it herself. "She's quite welcome. Indeed, in such times, family squabbles must be set aside so that we might help one another. Did Nicholas return all right?"

"He did. I have to go now. Thank you once again. Good bye." With that, Eve hung up.

The General smiled with satisfaction. Things aren't so lost after all. Yes, Dubois gained some advantages in this conflict, but so did I. Our chess match continues...and will.

Eventually, I will win. There is no other option.

Allowing that thought to percolate in his head, he returned to his callers, content to play the role given to him in this era and knowing that he would have an opportunity to face his enemies at some future point. And at that point, he was confident he would gain the upper hand.

THE END (for now)


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