The Zero Factor Part 3
David J. Duncan

Chapter 14
[New Sanctuary]

Emma sat up in bed, distraught over her most recent dream vision. No! Not again. Putting on her robe, she left her quarters and headed for the lab where Adam was working.

As soon as she arrived, the leader could tell something was up by the look on her face. "Emma? What is it?"

"Ashlocke's been up to something, Adam. I'm getting bits and pieces from Dave in that regard," she revealed.

Now what's happening? I need to help her with this sensitivity. "What do you remember?"

"I know that he went somewhere, but can't tell where or with whom. Then, I can tell you that Ashlocke appeared somehow back in Dave's office and started harassing him and everyone else there," she continued.

"Who else can you see?" he inquired.

"Clark, Lana, their friends, Chloe and Lex, another young woman, Nick, Gabrielle, and Eve. Xena and Cybelle join them later," she noted. "Anyhow, Dave and Cybelle hit Ashlocke with some strange energy that burns him. He vanished and now...Dave and Angie are fighting over what to do about him."

We can't have them playing judge, jury, and executioner in front of the new mutant students. He shook his head, wondering what to say to the professor about that point.

"Adam, Dave is arguing for restraint. Angie is still angry over the situation up in Wabash," she informed him.

That's a switch. "Well, that collaborates the information I have on the Strand's activities. One of Ashlocke's teams raided a dorm tonight looking for Chloe Sullivan, but won't say anything else. I'm willing to bet that Dave and Gabrielle popped in using that portal trick, took out Ashlocke's team, and brought the two girls back to Tucson. Gabriel probably wanted to send a message and well, got it right back in his face. In fact, this just came in," the leader postulated. Picking up a paper-clipped report, he skimmed it quickly and nodded. "That's exactly what happened."

"What's that?" she wondered.

"This is Steve's preliminary report from the dorm incident which he emailed to me. Apparently, Dave was there and so were two "unknown individuals"-Gabrielle and one of the students, I'd imagine. Given that Chloe was involved, I'll bet it was Clark. The three Strand members were all unconscious. The psionic, Robinson, was jolted out cold. The elemental, Linsuki, took at least two hits from a blunt object-Gabrielle's staff-and the molecular, one John Harry, sustained a broken hand. Get this, the injury happened while he was massed out," he added.

He broke his hand in that state? I didn't think that was possible. Emma recalled Jesse making a comment to that regard. "That ties Clark to the incident. So what happens now?"

"Steve thinks that he and Garth can cover some things up in their report. The Strand members will be treated and placed in custody quietly. Since all of the students and staff are all right, nothing more will be made of it," he guessed.

We're lucky that we have friends like that. "That would fit with Ashlocke's mood when he appeared in Dave's office."

"He hates to look bad all right," Adam sighed, recalling his experiences with the mutant in question. "And Dave's done that three times...four if you count the incident at the church. Two things we can bet on: he wants Dave dead, and two, he'll be willing to risk bringing all of his forces to Tucson to do it."

"And you have Dave, Cybelle, and Xena who frankly want him just as badly," Emma mentioned, shuddering slightly. "This has the makings of a bloodbath, Adam."

She doesn't know how right she is. "That's why we need to keep an eye on the situation. We'll talk about this tomorrow. Thanks for letting me know about what you saw. You filled in some holes for me," he assured her.

"If you say so," she concluded. "Good night." Walking off, she worried, Dave, please be careful.


[El Gato Negro, Tucson]

Nick walked through the front door and made his way toward the bar. After much deliberation, he decided to leave Dave and Angie to deal with their own problems, trusting that Eve and Gabrielle would be able to step in if needed. I can't play marriage counselor on top of everything else. Besides, I need to advise the others about the problem at hand.

At that moment, Vachon joined him. "Hey, Miles. Que pasa?"

"A great deal," the Elder told him, sipping on wine from the glass in front of him. "We've got trouble coming this way."

"Trouble, you say? Yeah, Tracy thought as much when you booked off again tonight. This wouldn't have anything to do with El Hombre Loco would it?" the former conquistador wondered.

The detective shot him a concerned look. "It has everything to do with it. Vachon, they want each other dead."

"What is it with Dubois? Everyone wants his ass on a stick," Vachon wondered.

"Ego problems. Besides, Dave made him look bad twice today alone," Nick pointed out.

"Ah. So, what's our role in this, Fearless Leader, hmmm?" Tracy queried, sitting down beside him.

"We keep a cordon around the situation and wait until Steve and Garth give us the order to go in. Since this is tied to the GSA stuff, it's their case, Trace. I'm also asking the Community to stay alert for possible trouble," her partner explained. "By the way, how's Schanke doing?"

"He's back at work if that's what you mean," she reported. "He claimed that the flu's bugging him."

Yeah, that's some 'flu'. Hair and fangs are really symptomatic if you're talking about a newly-minted werewolf. How did that happen to you, Schank? Nick mused.

"Uh, Nick? What's going on with him anyway?" she asked. 

"He's got personal issues to work out, Trace," Nick responded.

She rolled her eyes at Vachon. 

"Hey, don't get me involved!" the Iberian protested. "I'm just the roommate minding his own business where the police are concerned." 

"Yeah, but you two know what's going on with the Community and I'm being left out in the dark here," she protested.

"Some things are better left that way, my Dear," Janette advised, setting a drink down in front of her.

She frowned. "Nick, don't you trust me?"

He stared at her. "Of course, I do. It's just that...well...this is a vampire matter."

"Oh and it doesn't affect the rest of us?" his partner protested.

"As soon as I hear more, I'll let you know," he promised, looking at Vachon.

"Riiigght," Vachon agreed, getting up and taking his beer with him. "See you both later."

Tracy shook her head and got up as well. "Well, if you aren't going to tell me anything, I'll just see you at work then." After paying for the drink, she left grumbling something about men and their stupid secrets.

"You will have to let your mortal friends know, Nicolas," Janette urged.

"I know. When I know what's going on, I'll let them know," he reiterated.

He's still thinking about things. Sometimes, mon Cher, you can be too contemplative for your own good. "Meantime, I will spread the word. Oui?"

"Oui. Merci," he agreed, kissing her hand. Bon Soir, Janette." With that, he left the bar and drove off into the night.

Be careful, Nicolas. This balancing act could endanger us all. Janette worried about these things even as she sipped on a glass of wine. It was going to be a long week until the attack finally came. Why does Dubois always have to make life difficult for us? 

Chapter 15

Dave stood on the bottom marble step outside of the Social Sciences Building and glanced at the fountain and the grassy area around it. This spot has seen too many fights recently. He had faced Alti here. Lousain and his trolls attacked here. The GSA had invaded his world on this very spot. But all of that stuff paled with what he saw at that moment.

Leaning over the fountain, his wife continued to weep for her lost parents and what would never be again.

I gotta help her. I can't leave her like this. Taking a deep breath, he crossed the little access road and approached the marble structure carefully.

"Go away!" she muttered.

"No. I don't think so," he disagreed, folding his arms across his chest. "We need to talk."

"I think we've said everything we needed to in there. I thought you cared about my parents!" she yelled.

Remember, it's the pain talking, not her. "I do. But, shedding blood in their name isn't the answer, Angie."

She wheeled on him. "You...the man who allows his dark child to run rampant...tells me not to shed blood?" Through her puffy, reddened eyes, she glared daggers at him. "You have no right!"

He allowed a growl to escape his lips, advising her of the Other's displeasure. "Neither he nor I have ever committed murder, Angie. Property damage, wanton violence, mayhem, chaos, and massive destruction-all right, we're guilty. But murder, no way. Are you comparing me to Ashlocke? Don't go there, Angie. Don't go there!" By now, his own eyes were watering and he felt the Child starting to stir.

She sniffled, "No. You stopped him this time, but what about my parents? Karen's family? Your mother? Who speaks for them?"

He sighed, riding an abrupt anger wave shooting through him. "We do. But would you damn them all?"

"Of course not!" she argued. "But we need to take him down!"

He came closer. "And we will, Angie, if we shed blood in their names. We need to enforce things the right way. Together with our friends, we'll do just that. But we can't lose everything in the process! Don't give into that hate!"

"What else is there?" she demanded, pushing at him. "They've taken everything else away."

"I remember one person who pulled me out of the pit of despair not to long ago. She didn't give up on me either," he replied frankly, feeling the tears burning at his eyes. 

"I really should've minded my own business," she stated spitefully, looking away.

"And then what? You've saved me so many times, Angie. I...." He sat down on the cold marble and looked at her. "You're everything to me. Don't go cold on me!" he continued, pleading with her.

"It's too late for that. I want him dead! I want that bastard to hurt for what he did to us!" she protested vehemently.

"And he will," Dave promised, gripping her arms and forcing her to look at him. "But I won't lose you in the process. I've fought too many demons and who knows what else for you. I love you....If there's nothing else in this darkness for you, there's that. And I've got news for you, Lady, I'm not letting you go."

"What about Ashlocke? You won't kill him. What else is there?" she ranted.

"Pain and suffering," he rasped. "He's only received a taste of what the Child and I can dish out. For what he's done...and is doing to you, I'll deal with him accordingly. When the fight starts though, I want you and Xena at my side. Together, we'll kick his ass so hard, he won't sit down for a year."

"You mean that?" she asked. "You really want that?"

"Do you need to ask?" he replied in disbelief. "We're a team, Princess. Remember that." He kissed her on the cheek. "Don't give up on us, okay?"

She nodded silently, suddenly feeling very small. "Dave, so ashamed."

"It's okay. I've been guilty too in the past. I just need one thing and then, we can put this behind us," he requested.

"Anything, you know that," she assured him.

He kissed her long and hard on the mouth, feeling the energy tingle between them. "Now, you're forgiven," he told her. "Never forget, I love you. Okay?"

"I won't," she managed a smile and snuggled up against him. "Thank you for being you."

You have no idea how much that means, Princess. "Any time. Come on, let's go home and tuck our daughters in, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed and walked with him, hand in hand away from the fountain toward the car 


Watching from his office window, Eve and Gabrielle breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"That was amazing," the bard remarked.

"Eli works in mysterious ways," the former messenger told her before reciting a prayer of thanks.

"Now, let's do the same before it gets too late. Francesca's got a long day tomorrow and so do you."

Eve nodded and together, they left the office, heading for home and a well-deserved rest.

Chapter 16 [Lex's Hacienda]

Marie sat alone out on the patio looking at the stars in the desert sky. I wonder how they are dealing with this situation so well. I guess this is what Chloe meant when she said that there's more to the professor than meets the eye.

"Marie?" her classmate called from the door behind her. "What are you doing out here? You'll catch cold."

The Canadian laughed nervously, "This is balmy compared to my village in Quebec, Chloe. Besides, I needed to think a bit."

She's trying to put up a good front, but I know something's up. The reporter sat down next to her and asked, "Okay, what's really going on? I know you, Marie. You get this weird scrunchy thing going with your eyebrows when you're tense. You're doing it big time right now."

"I am?" I can't believe she noticed that. Doesn't anything get by her? 

"Yeah, you are," Chloe told her.

"Well, it's the whole weirdness thing tonight. You have to admit that this is a lot more stressful than studying for our Algebra final next week. Did you get this stuff all of the time in Smallville?"

She smirked. "More than you know. That's why I have the 'Wall of Weird'. Strange is the norm in Smallville...well ever since the meteor shower."

"I see...and what's going on with Clark?" Marie wondered.

Oh great. Now, I have to do the Clark Kent-evade thing. "Going on?" Chloe asked.

"How did you let him get away? He's so handsome."

Because he was already worshipping Lana before I even got there. Geez, Chloe, stop it. "Well, Lana ended up with him. They're happy and well...I've got Lex." She grinned and shrugged. "We're all still friends."

"That's true. I'm glad that things are working out for you two. Ever since he visited last October, you've been so much happier," Marie pointed out.

I guess it's been that obvious. Oh well, let them all deal with it. 

"I see. So is that why you're trying to transfer down here?" Marie queried.

"I want to be closer to my friends, Marie. Pete's in LA. Everyone else is here. Don't worry, I want to stay in touch, okay?" the reporter assured her. 

"And what about Professor Dubois? You really want to be that close to him?"

No kidding. Chloe, she has a point and if I didn't know him better, I'd agree with her. Still, he's been really good with all of us. "He's really not that bad once you get to know him."

"He seemed pretty bad to me last night." Marie shuddered. 

"You remember how he was during the lectures?" Chloe asked.

"Yes. I really enjoyed talking with him. That was before I knew what was lurking under the surface."

"Well, I remember the first time we met in Smallville, he scared the crap outta me. He did the same to Clark down here apparently. Yes, he has issues and he can straddle that line, but he won't step over it. He put that little show on for our sakes."

"For our sakes? You've got to be kidding!" her classmate protested.

"One thing about him that I've noticed about Professor Dubois from seeing him and reading up on him, he's extremely territorial about his friends, especially his students. Think, Marie, the man's just lost his family and some of his friends in that fire. Despite everything, he pulled me out of there. He's not going to let anything else happen to us," Chloe informed her.

"I wonder if they'll ever find out who set the bomb?"

"We know who it was--the guys who attacked us tonight. And the creep who appeared in the office was the one who pushed the button," Chloe continued. 

"Well, if that's how easy it is for the professor to lose control, I don't want to be around when he really goes crazy," Marie stated.

"He was perfectly focused," Lex pointed out, joining them. "How's it going, ladies?"

"Oh, I'm dealing with everything. Thank you for letting us stay here," Marie expressed.

He grinned and stole a kiss off of Chloe's right cheek. "My pleasure. I've asked the staff to make some coffee in the Sitting Room. Would you like to join us?"

Marie declined, "No thanks. I do appreciate it, but if I drink coffee now, I'll never get to sleep. Good night, you two. Thank you."

As they watched her walk back into the house proper, the couple mused about what she had said.

"Do you really believe that, Lex?" she asked.

"Believe what?" he queried.

"That he was under control tonight?" she wondered.

"Oh, trust me, he was very lucid and in check. He inflicted just enough damage to send a signal to the Strand," he assured her, rubbing her shoulders. "That's twice he's brought you back to me, Chloe."

"Even if was Clark who played a big role?"

He sighed. "Clark's a great friend to both of us, Chloe. I do wish I could have been there to see the look on that guy's face though."

"I was there and I still don't believe it. C'mon, I'm getting cold," she told him.

He removed his blazer and draped it across her back. "No chance of that. Not while I'm here. Now, unless you're still planning on making us both catch cold, let's join Clark and Lana. Okay?"

"Would that be a tone of concern for me, Mister Luthor?" she cracked.

He grinned snarkily and chuckled. Don't ever change, Chloe. With that, he led her back into the house and toward the Sitting Room.


Lana sat in a plush velvet chair and looked anxiously into the blazing fire in the fireplace. The flames look so beautiful...each peak so different. Too bad they're so destructive. Kind of the way the fire destroyed our illusions too. She sighed.

"Hey," Clark soothed, sensing something was wrong. "It's going to be all right."

"Is it, Clark? Is this why you kept your abilities a secret for so long?" she wondered.

She has a point. "Lana, we are who we are-for better or for worse. I'm glad you are you...powers or not. We just have to deal with things is all."

"Were you 'dealing with things' in Smallville around us?" she asked.

"You know me-always there to save my friends," he quipped. Seeing as it wasn't helping, he added somberly, "You're capable of pulling your own weight, Lana."

"Why can't that creep just leave us alone?" she asked, allowing the exasperation to show in her voice.

"We're a threat to him and his plans," he explained, trying to stay calm. "Apparently, this guy's ego can't stand any opposition. Don't worry...I trust in Professor Dubois, Mutant X and our classmates to stand by us."

"And we'll stand by them," she added, stroking his arm. "Clark, thanks for being here with me and for sharing your experience."

"Thank you for trusting me enough to stay in this relationship with me," he replied caringly, embracing her. "You're a strong person. Use it now to get through this situation."

"I'll second that," Lex concurred as he opened the doors for him and Chloe before closing them again. "Don't worry. The hall's empty except for Chloe and me."

Seeing how anxious her friends were, Chloe rushed over and hugged them both in a show of support. Maybe I don't have powers, but I can be there for them.

"Thanks, Chloe. I'm glad you're okay," Lana told her.

"Thanks to the Farm Boy here," the reporter responded, giving Clark a curious look. "I would still love to know how you did that."

"Did what? I just stood there. Your attacker was dumb enough to hit me. There was no way I was going to let him by like that-not with you in danger. No way," Clark assured her.

"Why? What happened?" Lana asked, the concern on her face.

"Well, after the refugee from the Hitler group grabbed me, we ran into Clark in the hallway. Well, he did this weird glowing thing and took a swing at the Farm Boy here. He broke his hand in the process. Then, Clark pried me loose and pinned him to the wall," the reporter recounted.

"I've heard of being dense, but that's ridiculous," Lex cracked, trying to take the edge off of the situation as he poured himself a coffee. "Still, Clark, you have no idea of how grateful I am to you and the others for getting Chloe out of trouble."

"Me? I was getting information for all of you!" Chloe countered.

"And you got caught in the process," the bald entrepreneur countered, pouring another coffee and handing it to her. "Chloe, I really wish you'd be more careful, okay? I admire your spirit and your attitude. I love how you go after things, but I want you around."

Geez. Chloe looked at their host for a second before replying, "It almost sounds as if you care, Luthor."

"He's serious as are we," Lana told her. "I'm so grateful I got that cell phone last week. If not, you would be in Ashlocke's hands right now."

Lex silently bowed his head, not wanting to consider that possibility.

"Well...I want to be there for you guys. All of you. Don't leave me on the sidelines," Chloe begged.

"Who said anything like that?" Clark argued. "You're here...right? I'm talking about me...the real me in front of you now. Believe me, it feels so good to have all of my friends in on this with me. It's tough to go it alone."

And I gave him such a hard time over that red meteor thing, Lana mused sadly. 

"What's wrong?" he wondered, looking at her.

"I was just thinking of how I reacted to you after that mess at the beginning of sophomore year. I wish I knew then what I know now," she noted.

He sighed. "It hurt me too, but I deserved it. And I was wrong not to trust you...all of you. My folks are worried that people will try to exploit me."

"Secrets destroy friendships, Clark," Lex advised, pacing about the room as he collected his thoughts. "Your trust means a lot to me as you know. I just want you to be safe is all."

"Some people have a reason for being here," Clark responded, getting coffees for himself and Lana. "I guess we have to protect the world from people like Ashlocke."

"Absolutely," his girlfriend agreed, albeit a bit uneasily.

"You've been doing great during our practice sessions. Well, you know how Adam is about grading our performances there," Clark assured her.

"Yeah, I know," she agreed knowingly. Talk about tough. I'm so glad though that the others are here. "Well, I just want to enjoy our time together. Let's change the subject, okay?"

The others nodded as they began to drift back into their memories of Smallville. Maybe the battle was drawing close, but they had their friendships, trust, and themselves to help each other through it all.

Chapter 17 [Late Friday afternoon-4 PM]

The next two days sped by for the students and professors alike. Classes went on and assignments kept the former group occupied. The latter stayed in their offices for the most part, preparing for lectures and finishing their grading.

By late Friday afternoon, the student traffic was only a quarter of its normal pace. Being only a week prior to exams, the students were on their way to eat before a night of studying-or so their professors hoped. Actually, they counted on the students being anywhere but there, especially with the looming threat on the horizon.


Dave sat in his office, putting the final marks on a set of papers. He was very impressed with the World Civ. class's effort. Between the first week of school and now, he had kept an open door to them no matter what. Even after returning from Wabash, he maintained his demeanor, putting his grief on the backburner for their sakes. With these papers, he saw his effort rewarded. A B+ average. Great going, guys!

At that moment, a knock came from the door. "Professor Dubois?"

Scanning the hall, he sensed the new mutant students as well as Brigid Shannon, Karen, Chloe, and Marie. "Come in, everyone." Getting up from his desk, he opened the door, allowing them to crowd into the area. "What can I do for you all?"

Martin spoke up first. "Ashlocke's here."

"I know," the medievalist concurred, staring out the window toward the north. "He and the Strand got here late last night. Be on your toes, Gang. Brigid, can you get Chloe, Marie and yourself off campus? Lex Luthor's hacienda is well protected."

"I'm not some china doll you can pack off, Buddy!" Chloe protested, hands on her hips.

"It's for your good, Chloe," Clark argued. "Just go and stand with Lex. Okay?"

"We want you to be safe," Lana added. 

Chloe looked at her classmates with concern. Geez, they're really going to fight these creeps. I'm still having trouble seeing Clark do it. How's Lana going to help? Chloe, there'll be time to ask later. "All right," she relented, grasping them both in a giant hug. "But if you don't come back, I'm not going to forgive you! Got it?"

"Absolutely," the former cheerleader assured her.

"Hey, everything's going to be fine. You'll see," Clark chimed in.

I wish I could be so sure. She took a long look at them before walking out. Come back safe, guys, please.

"I'll see them up there, Dr. D," Brigid assured him. "Give that twit Hell."

[From within his head, the Child grinned. Oh, we'll do that all right. Remember that, Big Bro. when Asscrock shows his puss.]

Dave sighed as the door closed. At least the students got the word and they're staying away. Since the Ithaca incident, he had tirelessly met with his colleagues across campus, getting the word out about the looming threat. The administration had cancelled classes as of 2 PM that day. Other than requesting that the damage be kept to a minimum, they had given full support to stopping the approaching threat.

"What do we do now?" Samantha posed.

"We watch and wait," the professor reiterated. "Is the building clear?"

"As far as we know," Pamela agreed. "What about Adam and the others?"

"They're on their way," Dave assured them. He strapped on his quiver and checked the bowstring's tension. Another look out the window told him the sun was about halfway below the western mountains. Come on. Let it be dark already. Recalling Nick's promise of Community involvement if needed-he wished for nightfall. Still twenty minutes away.

Seeing three vans speed through the university gates, he shook his head. They're here! "Okay, guys. Time for your first exam. Before they get here, I want you all to know how proud I am of you. Let's put the lid on them." Taking out a box, he opened it on the desk, revealing a pile of masks. "Everyone, put one on. I'm taking no chances on you being recognized."

The students nervously complied, glancing at themselves and thinking how much like burglars they appeared to be. Who's breaking the law? Them or us?

"You're okay," Dave assured them, watching the vans. "Pamela, can you shift into a snake or something and run recon? Martin, I need you to do the same."

"Right," the reptilian shape shifter agreed, changing into a snake and slithering out of the office.

"Be right back," the shaman added, disappearing into the spirit realm.

"Mika, are you in touch with her?"

"I'm right on her, Uncle Dave," she agreed. 

"Great," he replied. [Focusing, he spoke to Angie, "The guests have just arrived. Have Deirdre pop you in here."]

["We'll be there in a few minutes. Don't do anything stupid," she lectured.]

["Who me? Wouldn't dream of it," he cracked.] Like leading my students into battle? Oh yeah....

Then, he heard Ashlocke yell, "Dubois! Show yourself!"

"I'm here, Ashlocke!" Dave retorted. Turning to the kids, he told them, "Remember, nothing rash and let's do ourselves proud." Holding out his hand, he smiled warmly yet firmly at the others as they piled their hands on top of his.

"Let's end this," Sebastian urged.

"You heard the man. Just as we rehearsed, half of you go with me. The others go out the side," Dave added. "Good luck."

The others silently nodded as they broke the impromptu huddle. All of the preparation in the dojo...the drills...the practice...all of that stuff now came to a head.

Karen looked at her friend even as she hugged her daughter one last time. It's now or never. Mama, Daddy, Charles, be with us.

He agreed, hugging his former girlfriend and goddaughter tightly before leading them outside.

It was now or never.


Steve and Garth stood outside of the university gates and watched everything through binoculars. As soon as the vans entered the grounds, the police cordon blocked off all other access. One way or the other, nobody was going to get in or out on the ground.

"I feel we should be doing something," Garth complained.

He still thinks this is Nurrengaard. "We are, Garth. We're going to make sure that nobody else gets hurt. This is procedure."

Whatever. Dave, I'm here, Buddy. Just say the word.


On the other side of the line, Ramirez sat with Tracy and Schanke watching the activity developing in front of them nervously. He didn't want to allow this fight to happen.

"I wish I knew what Miles was up to. He's late," he complained.

"No, he's not, Cap," Schanke assured him. "He's on the inside already."

"He's in there?? El es loco!"

"He knows what he's doing," she assured him, even if she was biting her lip in the process. Come on, Nick. Pull through, okay.


Ashlocke surveyed the scene even as his followers got out of the vans. He had to admit that it would be a shame to raze this place to the ground. Still, one needs to prove a point. Looking back at the cops, he grinned smugly. You can have your act for now. Get in my way and I'll brush you all aside like flies.

"We're ready," Morgan stated.

"Good," the head mutant agreed. Adam, you're late, but I'll deal with you when you finally get your ass down here. "Dubois!"

"I'm here!" the professor's voice retorted tersely.

"Get ready!" Ashlocke told the others, noting the mist thickening by the Student Union. The witches are here as well. Well, let them bring on their infernal magic. We're ready!


Within the mists, Deirdre looked back at her companions anxiously. Once again, we're in the battle...just as in the Inner Realms. Papa, may we find peace one day.

Xena sat in position high atop Argo II's back, waiting for the right moment. Now, you'll pay for what you did, Bastard. Looking at Gabrielle and Eve, she asked them, "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be, Mother," the Amazon princess stated.

"Same here," the Bard concurred.

"Then, let's have at it! Deirdre," the Warrior Princess urged.

The priestess nodded and dispelled the mists. It begins.

The three Amazons rode out into the deepening twilight ready to help in the battle ahead.


In the Fine Arts Museum, Nick watched through the tinted glass as the sun sank behind the mountains. Only a few more minutes. 

"Nick, it's almost time," Alyce advised, rubbing his shoulders.

"I know. Time to face the music," he agreed. Seeing the last color fade from the sky, he kissed her. "I love you."

"And I, you," she agreed.

He smiled firmly before zipping toward the scene.


The Double Helix streaked over Phoenix's southern suburbs heading south. Onboard, Adam and Mutant X furiously prepared for the battle to come. 

"Ashlocke just got there according to the police reports," Jesse reported.

"Damn bastard just jumped the gun!" Shalimar spat.

I was hoping to be there before he got there. What's our ETA, Brennan?"

"Ten minutes, Adam," the electrical mutant replied.


"Dave's holding control so far, Adam," she reported. "He's directing the students."

"How are they handling it?" he wondered.

"They're nervous but ready to go," she replied.

"Great." Hold on, Kids. Seeing the plateaus and Casa Grande streak by underneath them, he thought, It won't be much longer.

Chapter 18

Dave led his group out of the front door and onto the pavement in clear sight of the Strand. Just as with the scene outside of the church, the intruders' presence rankled the defenders.

"It took you long enough!" Ashlocke taunted.

"Oh, you needn't have worried. I wasn't going anywhere. Still, do we really need the public exposure?" the professor offered. "Give up now and avoid a scene."

The patricide grinned snarkily. "I was going to say the same thing."

Dave looked at his charges and at Karen. Not likely. This ends here one way or the other. "Too bad. Guys...."

The students tensed, prepared for the worst.

Ashlocke shrugged. "Your loss. Attack!"

At his command, the Strand members rushed forward.

To their credit, the students engaged them rapidly, breaking apart into one on one battles-ability vs. ability, will vs. will. Although their enemies outnumbered them by 2 to 1, they held their own.

Then, from the mists, Xena erupted onto the scene, galloping quickly toward the melee on Argo. Right behind her, her Amazon sisters were prepared for battle as well. Once they had closed on the rear of the invaders' line, they hacked into them hard, showing no mercy except for their lives.

From the deepening gloom, Nick descended, tearing into the Strand's flank.

Martin reappeared and shifted to bear form. Then, he engaged the Strand's werewolf in a bloody struggle.

Sebastian doused the pyrokinetic thoroughly, refusing to dance with her as in Wabash.

Then, Lana finished the job on her counterpart with a right hook to the jaw. "I did it."

"You sure did. Come on," he advised.

She smiled. Maybe this fight isn't over, but at least I helped in a positive way.

Meantime, Clark took the enemy's best shots as he engaged two density mutants at close range. The two mutants pounded on him, raining blows on his super hard skin, but he soon got the upper hand on them, rendering them unconscious.

Within twenty minutes, the Strand lay unconscious or wounded on the grass. As in their previous encounter, the students and allies had stood firm and won the day.

Dave allowed a warm smile to momentarily flash across his features for the students' accomplishment. Once again, he was so proud of them. Now, it was his turn. "Ashlocke. It's our turn, Coward."

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere," the combination mutant declared, willing up an energy blast and firing it at him.

The blast impacted against Dave, burning him even as he absorbed it. He winced in spite of himself. In his shoulder, he felt the familiar pain from the metal shard. It was time to let the Child loose. 

"That tickled. Feel this!" His left eye glowed red as he fired a stream of dark energy back at the attacker.

As with the attack on the spectral image before, this power staggered the Strand leader.

"Ah told ya there'd be payback!" the Child roared. "Your boys are down and ya'll are joinin' 'em!"

Anger coursed through Ashlocke as he recalled the previous humiliations. He snarled and fired another burst...only to see something chilling.

The Child absorbed it and didn't flinch. Worse, he laughed derisively, mocking his adversary. "Is that all ya got?" Firing another blast, he watched it ricochet off of the murderer's force field. "Well now, Laughin' Boy's got some pr'tection. Fat lotta good that's gonna do ya!" Concentrating for a full minute, he summoned a great big charge and fired again.

This time, the blast pushed against the field and knocked Ashlocke off of his feet. Successive bursts crumpled the energy barrier like an eggshell. One thing was for sure: the Child wasn't about to be denied this time. "Time to suffer!"

Ashlocke managed to roll out of the Dark One's path and scale a nearby building to get away from him. 

As if ya can hide from me, Asshole. The Child roared his displeasure, unnerving everyone around him before levitating after him. "Ya can't run but ya can't hide!"

Ashlocke rubbed his head still feeling the backlash from the collapsed field. I need to get out of here.

"Nowhere to go!" the Child ranted, advancing methodically. "Time to get yer whuppin'!"

However, Ashlocke managed to scale gingerly down the structure's other side and find cover in the shadows.

"No!" the Dark One denied. He wasn't about to lose him again. Not this time. Ah'll git your sorry ass one way or 'nother!


After landing the Double Helix close by the scene, Mutant X surveyed the scene. There, they saw that the students along with Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Karen, and Nick had subdued the Strand's forces. 

"Anyone hurt?" Adam asked the masked group.

"Other than a few bumps and bruises, no," Karen replied, shaking his hand. "Dave's still chasing Ashlocke and..."

Then, they heard an angry scream of one denied....

"Crap!" Clark exclaimed.

"Clark, it's Ashlocke!" Lana told him. "Someone just killed him!"

Oh no. Nick worried. Dave, what have you done? 

"Nicholas, can I hitch a ride?" Xena requested.

Nodding, he picked her up and took to the sky, hurrying to join their friend.

Clark cradled his girlfriend in his arms and followed the vampire's path.

The others looked to Emma who shook her head. Whatever it was, the events weren't good news. 

"Do you all want a lift there?" Deirdre offered, opening a portal. 

Accordingly, they rushed through it to get to the scene of this latest situation before it got too far out of hand.

Papa, what have you done? The priestess sighed sadly before closing the fog behind her.

Chapter 19

Even as the battle took place, Ali and Eckhart watched the events unfold from the top of the Chemistry building with great interest. To both of them, it meant a chance to observe all of their potential adversaries in action at once.

The former Janissary had to begrudgingly give Dubois credit. He has turned that rat pack group of children into a true fighting force. Amazing. Recalling the issues the Turks had with finding leaders of such ability, he wished, Too bad we hadn't met centuries earlier. I would be asking for an alliance instead of his head.

Likewise, his protégé mused over the happenings down below. He still recalled how many of this group had taken down his best security forces months earlier. In terms of the Strand, he knew that he had ordered these freaks' capture a long time ago. Seeing Ashlocke free made him shake his head in disgust. I need to attend to that one myself. Then, he saw an amazing sight.

Ashlocke was running from something...

What the? The former administrator looked about for the source but then, something hit him: a pained wail that could only come from one source.

Dubois. Well, he has Ashlocke scared for his life. Given what the freak has done to him, the latter should be scared. "Master, I wish to take on Ashlocke."

The Turk perked an eyebrow with interest. He wants this one so badly. "Can you take him, Mason?"

"I feel I can," the fledgling responded, his eyes flashing gold and catching the moon's tint.

Ali nodded. "You may have the new mutant, but do not engage Dubois...especially not in this state. I will not lose another child to this Dark One as I did Bertrand.

Eckart nodded and descended into the dark alley below them.

The master waited for a few seconds before following.


Ashlocke stopped in the dim lighting around the Chemistry building. Fighting Dubois and running from him had taxed even his limits. Can I get away from him? Damn him! He's like a...

"Yes? Finish yer statement, Scum," the Child sniggered from close by. His left eye's ruby red glow and the white power sparking from his hands revealed his position. Not that he cared any about such trivial matters when he was hunting. 

"I agree," a familiar voice chimed in from behind the targeted mutant.

The Child stared in indignation. "Hey! This is mah lunch! Go git yer own!"

The shadowy figure shrugged. "First come..." He grabbed Ashlocke's head in a flash and snapped the other's neck. "First served."

The Dark One watched Ashlocke's eyes and smile as the latter fell to his knees. "Even now...I get...the better of you." Then, he fell to the sandy gravel and expired.

The Child screamed to the sky. No one denies me! Ah want mah revenge! He glowered at the mystery figure. He seemed familiar, but right now, all he cared about was taking a pound of flesh out of him for ruining his mischief. 

At that moment, Nick and Clark along with Xena and Lana joined him. They were aghast at seeing Ashlocke's corpse.

Right behind them, the portal opened allowing Adam and Mutant X to step onto the scene.

"Did you do this?" Nick asked the Child knowing what the consequences would be if he had.

"Didn't git the chance to take mah revenge," the Dark One stewed. "Your vampire buddies denied me that!"

That's a relief. Xena thought relieved for him, Angie, and herself.

"Too bad for you, Dubois," Ali cracked from the darkness.

"Well, Master Scumbag. Ah shoulda killed ya'll too when I put the torch to yer kid."

"Yes, I suppose. I will see you dead for that one day," the Janissary challenged, walking into view.

"Bring it on," the Child retorted. "Hey, tell yer buddy to come out. Ah wanna know who gits mah next whuppin'!"

"Absolutely," the Janissary Enforcer agreed. For all of his crassness, this one certainly has his way with showmanship. Turning to his companion, he requested, "Will you?"

From his position, Nick frowned. We know who this is. What's Ali doing if...? Then, he looked at Adam and the others. They don't know.

The figure stepped into the light slowly, savoring the moment. Ever so slowly, Eckhart came into view. 

"Mason!" Adam exclaimed aghast, not believing that his adversary was still alive.

The other members of Mutant X stared in disbelief at the sight in front of them as well. They had seen him die back in Smallville-a fact confirmed on the Double Helix during the flight back here. Their enemy had returned from beyond the grave.

The students watched Clark, Lana, and Miri's eyes widen as well. Having heard the accounts of the trio's experiences with this man, they knew he would be a force to be reckoned with.

Lana forced herself to stare at the fledgling. I won't be afraid of him. I won't be for my sake as well as Clark's and the team's. 

Eckhart grinned broadly and allowed his eyes to flash gold at them. Look at them. They should fear me. "What? No greetings for an old friend?"

"Stick it, Whitey," the Child growled.

"You're a vampire?" Adam wondered.

"Why yes, I am. It was the only way to insure that I would be around to exterminate all of your freakish creations, Adam," Eckhart taunted, savoring the other's unease at this situation. "I will do it too."

"We'll be ready," the geneticist countered.

"As will we," Martin added.

"Stay away from us, Eckhart," Lana advised.

"You heard them," Clark chimed in.

Nick stepped forward. "You're still in my jurisdiction, Eckhart. Ali, remind your fledgling of what happens when he breaks the Code by challenging the Elder."

"I'll kill you myself before you touch him, Brabant," Ali countered.

"Nah, cuz ya'll will be with Mustard Boy first," the Child disagreed.

"We'll send ya to join him," Xena added, allowing her sword to glint in the lamplight. 

"Then, Eckhart, you'll have me to deal with," Nick promised, his own eyes flashing red. "Leave now."

The Enforcer looked at the assembled group in front of him and knew they had the advantage at that point. "Very well. However, we'll be back." Having said that, he disappeared into the dark sky.

Eckhart tarried but a minute longer. "Another time, then?"

"Count on it," Adam promised earnestly.

His revived adversary grinned. "I'll look forward to it." With that, he followed his master into the sky.

For a minute, the group stared at the spot where the new vampire had stood. 

"That's something else," Brennan groused. "Doesn't he want to stay dead?"

"Apparently not," Shalimar growled, her eyes turning yellow.

Mason, I don't care if you are immortal or not, you will not touch my children or their friends. This I vow. Adam told himself. "Come on, everyone. Let's get Ashlocke back to Sanctuary before the police arrive."

"I'll help with that," Deirdre offered, blanketing herself, Mutant X, and Ashlocke's body with the mist and taking them to the Double Helix.

"Speaking of the police, I'll let them know everything's okay," Nick told the others. "Nice work, all of you." Looking at the Child, he mused, I know you wanted revenge, but in a way, Eckhart saved you this time. Then, he flew away.

The Child considered the remaining group with him. Big Brother, ya did good with these kids. Real good. With that, he focused and allowed Dave to regain control.

The professor winced, feeling the headache. "It never gets any easier," he groused.

"Professor Dubois, are you back?" Martin asked.

"Yes. I am now," the medievalist indicated. "Is it over then?"

"For now," Xena stated. "Eckhart's back with Ali, but you knew that already. The new boy killed Ashlocke before the Child could deal with him."

Thank God. Everyone, you can rest now. "Hey, can you folks make your way to Social Sciences? I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Right," Michael agreed, following the others back toward the classroom.

Dave watched them go. I'm proud of you all. Then, he made his way toward the back side of the same building. There, at the plaque of his mentor, Tony Samuelsohn, he kneeled and said, "Hi, Tony and Pauline, it's me. I know it's been a while, but everything's fine now. I didn't think I could survive another experience like Cambridge, but I did it. And it was due to my new students. You'd like them all. They're incredibly smart and gifted. You should have seen them tonight, holding the line with minimal damage. I'm a lucky man, Tony. But then, I had the greatest mentors in you and Pauline, didn't I? And, as you treated me, so I'll treat them. Well, they're waiting for me so I have to go. You both take care. Thanks again."

Getting up, he dusted off the marker and smiled warmly before leaving. He was a lucky man. True, he had lost a great deal, but he was finding so much more in the bargain and wasn't that what life was all about?

Chapter 20

[El Gato Negro Bar-later that night]

Nick wandered into the establishment and settled down at the bar. He had just experienced a very busy evening. After the standoff at the university, he had "convinced" Ramirez that nothing had happened save for some very rowdy kids fighting it out there. After Steve and Garth had moved in with an unmarked paddy wagon, collected the unconscious Strand members and took off for the airport, he claimed responsibility for the paperwork. After all of that had happened, he was in the mood for a drink.

"So, Nicolas, did it go as planned?" Janette asked, placing a glass of wine in front of him.

"It did. We kept the standoff contained to the west side of the university and prevented any property damage except for some singed grass and a broken bench," he indicated, taking a sip.

"And we'll handle the paperwork," Tracy added, plopping herself down into the seat next to him. Seeing him starting to protest, she assured him, "Relax. I just want to help keep the business tonight under wraps as much as possible. That was pretty slick of Dave though."

"What was?" he inquired.

"Having everyone mask up like that to keep Ramirez and the others from knowing who was who. That's some fighting force they have there," the blonde detective stated.

"It is that," he concurred, taking another sip of wine.

The phone rang and Janette answered it. "Oui. He is here." She handed the receiver to Nick. "For you."

"Yes?" he queried.

"Nicholas," LaCroix greeted. "I wanted to commend you on a spectacular effort tonight."

"You know about that already?" the former Crusader wondered.

"Of course. Where you're concerned, I'm always aware of what's going on, Nicholas. The Council has already been informed of what happened. They wish to thank you for maintaining the Community's secrecy and for preserving the peace down there. Ashlocke could have been a threat to us all. They also wish you to keep an eye on Ali and his apprentice. They could be a troublesome annoyance," the General reported.

"Thank you, LaCroix," Nick accepted. "On the last matter, yes, they could be a problem. That is why everyone is watching for them."

"Remember, Nicholas, the Community is the top priority here."

"Of course. Only those selected mortals who know of us and have vowed secrecy will work with us," Nick replied, stealing a glance at Tracy.

"Yes...and do thank Dubois, would you?" the Roman added with a pained tone in his voice.

As much as I would like to rub it in, I won't. "I'll do that," the vampire detective agreed

"How is Livia?" LaCroix asked.

"If you mean Eve, she's fine. She played a big role tonight," Nick assured him. "I have to get back to the precinct. Thank you for calling."

"You're welcome," the General concluded. "Thank you for taking the time. Good night, Nicholas."

He handed the receiver back to Janette. "Thanks for letting me talk to him. Everything's in order."

"No problem at all, mon Cher," the vampiress responded. "Just handle that paperwork, no?"

"I will," he told her. He finished the drink and turned to find Ali and Eckhart entering as well. 

"Brabant," the Turk greeted. "Ah, is this your partner? I do remember her from a few weeks ago."

"And you are?" Tracy wondered, reaching for her gun.

"My name's Ali, my Dear. And this is Mason Eckhart, my...companion," the former Janissary introduced.

"Ali? As in the Enforcer and master of Dijon? That Ali?" she demanded.

"You do tell her too much, Nicolas." Ali frowned. 

"I'm not saying anything. Besides, I deserve to know these things so I can help keep your secret, Mr. Hot-Shit Enforcer. Besides, your buddy there made things difficult for us all a few months ago," Tracy countered. 

Hot-Shit Enforcer? Tracy, you don't know what you're dealing with, but I need to back her. "She's right," Nick asserted, walking over to the Enforcer and glaring into his eyes. "If you want to stay here and have a drink-fine. After that, get out of town. The Council supports me and you know it."

Ali spat angrily. "You would hide behind your sire, Crusader."

Nick shrugged off the insult. "I have never done anything of the kind as long as we've known each other. Besides, he was nowhere near that battlefield in Wallachia, was he?"

The Turk growled. He would have to bring up that battle, wouldn't he? Seeing the other vampires start to stand, he knew it was time to leave. "Come, Mason. It's time to leave."

The two interlopers hurried out the door and disappeared into the night.

"Janette, let me know if he comes back here again," Nick directed.

"Oui, Nicolas, I shall," she agreed.

"Okay. Let's go, Tracy," he urged. "I also need to check with Schanke when we get in."

She nodded and followed him out to the Caddy, eager to attend to those forms.


[New Sanctuary]

Adam secured Ashlocke's body in the lab's cryogenics pod for study. He had wished to take the patricidal mutant alive for study. Yet, in the end, he knew that the maniac would have ended up where he was through one means or another. And so it ends. 

"Hey," Max greeted entering the lab, still rubbing her bruises from the fight. "How's it looking?"

He shrugged. "I'll start the autopsy in the morning. Hopefully, I can learn more about cellular mutations in the others...and maybe, you."

Huh? I thought this guy already knew everything. Yeah right, Max. Nobody's there. "You cured my virus. I'm sure you could do the same again for us."

"It never hurts to be thorough," he noted grimly.

What the Hell's bothering him? "Okay. Out with it, Adam. You've been pissed since we left Tucson. What gives?"

He squirmed. She's good. Must have been that Manticore training.

"Do I have to get Shal and Emma up here?" she supposed. "C'mon, Adam, I ain't the Thought Police."

"The Child acted as if he knew about Eckhart. Why didn't Dave tell me?"

"Maybe because he didn't know. Look, Adam, I've seen enough nutcases like him to know that each 'side' knows stuff and keeps it from the other. Don't ask me to explain that crap...genetics gives me a headache. Just don't blame him. Okay?" she explained.

"All right," he agreed, managing a smile. "Thanks for justifying our faith in you tonight, Max."

"No sweat. Thanks for letting me on the team. Hey, Logan and the others are having some dessert. Wanna join us?"

The geneticist looked at his notes and then, at Ashlocke's body. The work needs to be done, but it could wait until tommorrow. "Absolutely," he agreed. "Let's go."

She grinned, taking him by the hand and leading him down toward the dining area where the others awaited them,



Cybelle gazed into the mists hovering over the Sacred Lake. Since coming back from Tucson two nights earlier, the Faerie Empress had ordered her to remain there. She wanted Dave to face Ashlocke without me. I deserved a chance to exact justice, didn't I?

"Auntie?" Deirdre inquired, stepping through a portal.

"Ah, Deirdre, good to see you. What happened out there?" the High Priestess queried.

Deirdre reported, "Ashlocke's dead...but not by Papa's hand. That bad man, Eckhart, killed him."

"Eckhart's dead, so how?" 

"He's a vampire. Ali brought him across. Anyhow, he killed Ashlocke before the Child could claim him," the heiress continued. "The battle went well as we had very few injuries and nobody was seriously hurt. The students fought well."

Dave should be proud and I'm sure he is. "And those bastard followers of his?"

"In custody."

"And Ashlocke's body?"

"With Mutant X. We didn't want to take the same chances we did with Eckhart," Deirdre assured her.

"Indeed." Well, Michael, you were denied yet again. Dave, enjoy your victory, Bro. You deserve it. "Come then, we should rest. Once again, you did well, Deirdre," Cybelle bade, guiding her niece into the hut and to some well-deserved rest for them both. 


[Amherst Cemetery]

Dave dusted off his family's monument caringly and placed a fresh bouquet on it. Only now, after Ashlocke's death and his own anger being spent did he realize the full gravity of what was lost in the fire. We were never close, guys. I'm sorry for that, but our pain drove us apart. You know that I always cared about all of you even if we couldn't be under the same roof and I always will. Rest well. You deserve it. Looking across the access road, he saw Angie and Karen at the latter's family gravesite. Thank God for them. They knew what they were risking by bringing me into their home, but they saved me.

"And what about us?" an unwelcome voice lectured.

Dave glared at the spot as his father's spirit appeared. "Go away. I'm busy."

"Yeah. I'll bet...with those freaks of yours."

"Those so-called freaks are better people than you or I, Dad," the professor snarled. "Ashlocke and the GSA have been dealt with, but thanks to you, Ah...I...need to worry about Eckhart. Look, if you're looking for absolution, I'm not going to give it to you." Tears started to streak his face as the change happened.

"Look at yer creation! Ah'm what ya'll made us into!" the Child bellowed, the pain tearing at his insides. "Now git!"

The father shook his head, hoping for reconciliation before he left this world. No chance of that. Blast him! With that, he vanished into the icy air.

Damn that bastard! The Child focused and allowed Dave to reassert control before walking over to the others' side.


Meantime, Angie and Karen finished at the other site. They remembered how kind her family was to them. There were plenty of good things to recall even after both couples broke up and were searching for themselves. No matter what, the Alvarezes had stuck by them.

"Do you think they're all right?" the nurse asked anxiously.

"I'm sure of it," Angie assured her, rubbing her friend's arm. "They're good people, Karen. The best."

Looking across the street, Karen thought: They certainly made a difference with him. I'm glad that they took him in. Seeing him react to something, she asked, "What the?"

The oncologist studied the scene and scanned the vibrations. I wish Lana were here to confirm it, but we've got an unwelcome visitor. "Dave's father's with him...and guess who's not happy about it."

Karen winced. "Do we need to go over there?"

Hearing the Child's roar, Angie jumped to her feet. This stops now. However, she stopped as Dave suddenly collected himself and started toward them. He did it. He stood up to him. She ran to him and hugged him tight. 'It's okay."

"Is it?" he sobbed, burying his face in her shoulder. "Even now, he won't leave me alone."

"Shh, it's fine. You've survived him. Now, he has to move on and so do we," she assured him despite her own misgivings.

"That's right," Karen agreed, joining the embrace. "He can't hurt you ever again, Dave. Not ever."

He nodded moodily, still fighting to keep the Child in check. I hope they're right. 

Deirdre stood behind them, watching the scene in front of her. Will there ever be peace in this family? Goddess knows. "Are we ready?"

"Yes," Angie told her. "We are."

Her daughter nodded and opened the portal, allowing the others to step through. Before she followed, she took one last look at the sites. Rest in peace, everyone. Then, she closed herself into the mists and conveyed them all back out West.


[Tucson-The Student Union Food Court: About 2 PM]

Clark, Lana, Miranda, and Lex sat around a table nervously sipping on cappuccinos and waiting for Chloe. After the standoff, the four friends had met back at the hacienda to discuss what had happened and what to do next. 

For Chloe, that night represented a watershed. Going into it, she was torn between staying at Cornell and being independent and being in Tucson with her friends. Seeing Marie's reaction to everything and recalling how scared everyone in the dorm had been even around her friends, she knew that her future lay with her friends from Smallville...even if that future was out there. Besides, Lex had taken her heart and her place was at his side. Then Clark and Lana's role in the brawl on campus showed just how big of a responsibility they had taken on with their abilities. They need a friend to stand by them. Now I understand why Lana wrote about Alicia Fallone as she did. And I'll do the same, she had decided before leaving for campus that morning.

Lex sat and stared out the window toward the Science Library. He had worked with Chloe through the night on her supplemental materials and case for getting in there. Given her GPA and her journalistic background, he doubted she would have any problem. Of course, one never leaves such things to chance, he mused.

"Hey, Lex, it's going to be okay," Clark assured him.

"Of course it is," Lex replied casually, the grin on his face.

"So why are you just doing the Twilight Zone thing?" Lana wondered. "I've seen that look with you in the Talon before."

"Think positively," Miri added, sipping on her iced tea. "It's going to be so cool to have her here with us."

"Let's not get overconfident," Lex cautioned. 

"We can always hope for the best though," Clark replied. "For you two especially."

They know me so well...almost too well, he thought to himself. Still, is that such a bad thing? I definitely did the right thing by coming out here. 

"So, what's going on with Genomex? Adam wanted me to ask," Miri asked.

Lex smiled. "From what I've heard, the reorganization is going fine. The stormtroopers are being reassigned and the genetic research is top priority again. After I'm done, there'll never be another GSA or anything like it for an Eckhart to use against us ever again."

His three friends smiled warmly. They knew that he was taking a lot on at once to accomplish that one mission. However, they also knew that he was a loyal friend and that he would brook no further terrorist activity in his jurisdiction. 

"You know that we appreciate your effort, Lex," Lana stated.

"I know. You have the same look that you had when I announced the partnership to run the Talon," the entrepreneur cracked. "Seriously, it's time for a little tolerance and understanding. I've known Adam since he started working at Genomex. The man's outstanding and he deserves full support. As my friends, I'll give you all no less. Stick with me, okay? I'm just getting warmed up."

Knowing him, these next few years should be something else. "Any hints?" Clark teased, flashing the Kent smile.

"Now, Clark, you know that one shouldn't reveal the sources," Lex chuckled, taking another sip.

"You've been spending too much time around Chloe," Lana laughed.

"There's no such thing," he remarked.

"There better not be, Luthor," the reporter cracked, walking up in her best outfit-a white blouse with a black pinstriped blazer and matching skirt. "How are we all doing?"

"Just waiting on you, Dear," Lex commented wryly. "You know the world revolves around you where we're concerned."

"Just with you, Lex," Clark added, shooting his friend verbally in the foot.

Chloe's eyes sparkled. "I thought so," she giggled. 

"Thanks a lot, Clark," Lex groused, shooting the other man a dirty look. He's knows I don't concede points to her.

"Aw, that's okay," the reporter soothed, kissing him on the cheek. "Besides, we're going to have a lot more time together." Seeing the others look anxious at her. "What? Was there any doubt about me getting in here? You all need me to keep you straight."

"That's all we need," Lex remarked playfully.

She slapped his shoulder playfully. "You especially, Luthor."

"That depends on your point of view, Sullivan. As I recall, we had to bail you out of trouble recently," Lex retorted, the grin coming back to his face. Touché. 

"Have you thought about any classes for next semester?" Miranda asked.

"I have some ideas, but I was hoping for some suggestions. Maybe, we can be in a class together?" Chloe requested.

"I think that can be arranged. Come on, let's go and celebrate before your flight back to Ithaca tomorrow," Clark urged. 

"Your classmates are waiting at my hacienda," Lex informed her, taking her hand and letting his eyes shine into hers. "Come."

Chloe looked at her friends. It had been a rough few weeks for sure, but now, she had her friends and Lex back full time. It will all be worth it and what an adventure it will be! What an adventure indeed!

THE END (for now)

(**I hope you all enjoyed this installment as another trilogy comes to a close! Don't worry; there will be more soon! After I finish a Smallville piece, I have a new line of Dubois stories with extra challenges for our crew of characters! Do stay tuned. Comments are welcome at To keep up with my postings, please join my "DuboisChronicleUpdates" group on Yahoo Groups. Thanks again for your interest!**)

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