Chapter 17 [Luthor Mansion-Smallville]

Jonathan Kent drove his truck up the driveway of the mansion, feeling a bit uncomfortable with everything. For the past twelve hours, he, his wife, Martha, Nell Potter, and Gabe Sullivan had all been petrified over their kids' safety. Finally, Lex had called Chloe's father to let him know that everything was under control and to bring the others to a meeting at the mansion.

"I hope that they're okay," Jonathan stated, his temper a bit frayed.

"Jonathan, remember, keep your cool," Martha advised.

"Personally, I can relate to how he feels," Nell groused, climbing out of the other side.

Exchanging looks with Gabe, Martha worried to herself, Bad enough that the situation's like this, but they'll only make it worse.

After Jonathan knocked on the front door, Lex answered it. "Come right in, everyone," the latter invited, opening the door.

After everyone came in, the businessman requested, "Follow me to the library if you would." Going up the stairs, he led the group into his personal sanctum where the others were waiting.

"Chloe? Is that you?" Gabe wondered, rushing over to his daughter. Grasping her tightly, he hugged her glad that she was all right.

"I'm okay, Dad. It's all right. Please..." she protested.

"How are you doing, Son?" the farmer asked.

"I'm fine, Dad," Clark assured him. "We just breathed in some smoke is all."

Nell eyed them both suspiciously. There's more than they're letting on. "Lana?"

"As Clark said, just a bit of smoke inhalation," she smiled. What she doesn't know won't kill her.

"Thanks for seeing them through it, David," Martha expressed.

"It was a team effort, Martha," the professor responded. "Clark was a real hero up there."

"What happened?" Nell demanded.

"My father decided to strike back is what happened," Lex stated, shutting the doors and turning on the monitor on his desk. "Agent Petersen, are you and Dr. LeBeau there?"

"We are," Steve replied as their faces came into view on the satellite feed. "Thanks for arranging this, Lex. Garth, what's our status down there?"

"The situation in Arizona's being attended to by Detective Miles and Farrell. How about you?"

"The report's back. Dave, I'm sorry, but your father was murdered," Natalie stated. "The report's been filed up here in Hampshire County. Surprisingly, there was no stool-no way for him to get high enough to hang himself."

"Any clues?" Dave wondered, feeling a tremor of anger from the Child.

"None," Steve stated. "There was something we found in the cell. A piece of paper with the number 0.0 written on it was on the guard."

In the corner, Adam winced, recognizing immediately the significance of this revelation. Not this. Lionel, what have you done?

"What is it?" Lex asked.

Everyone turned to face the scientist who was shaking his head. "The killer's name is Gabriel Ashlocke. Agent Petersen, tell the police to contain but don't move in-he'll kill them without a second thought."

"I'll tell Rivers," Steve agreed. "Meantime, Lex, Brother Tony's waiting for our call. He managed to reserve the church for us after 8 PM tomorrow night. Is that all right with you?"

"Just a minute," Lex indicated.

Angie looked at Dave sadly. After he nodded, she agreed, "Go ahead and thank you again, Lex."

The businessman smiled warmly and told Steve. "Make the arrangements if you would. Tell the florists and the others that I'll be in touch." With that, he closed the connection. "What a mess."

"You said it," Martha stated. "Meantime, how are you two holding up?"

"We're surviving," Dave stated. "Last night was Hell."

"What happened? They made it out," Nell assumed. "The news reports didn't mention anything about fatalities." Seeing her niece's face turn white, she demanded, "What happened up there?"

"An act of domestic terrorism," Lex replied, his face tight even as he tried to hold his indignation in check. "Remember what happened at the high school?" Seeing the others nod, he continued, "They struck in two places this time."

"They hit a class reunion to distract us," Angie continued. "Then, they...they..." She began to sob and couldn't continue, burying her face in Dave's chest.

Dave embraced her tightly as he recounted, "They had set a bomb and detonated it. Angie's parents, my mother, grandmother, and brother in addition to Karen Montoya's brother and parents were all killed either in the blast or the flames. I remember pulling Chloe out. Clark got Lana and Miranda out. I blacked out after that." The tears began to flow and he started to shake noticeably.

The parents all stared at him aghast, not believing what they had just heard.

Gabe asked next. "What does this have to do with your father?"

Lex gripped Chloe's hand tightly and closed his eyes. Damn you, Dad. Why is it that the children must suffer for the fathers' sins?

"It's okay, Lex," she told him.

"Tell 'im, Lex," Dave slurred, starting to lose control.

The entrepreneur nodded. "This must be kept in this room, understand?" Seeing the others nod, he continued, "The group is called the Genetic Security Agency. They're affiliated with Genomex."

"Genomex?" Gabe countered. "That's the company your father just acquired? He's the chairman of the board and he...?"

"I'm afraid so, Gabe," Lex affirmed. "Agent Singleton?"

"The Bureau tapped the lines between his office here and there. He was in on it. The whole thing," Garth told them.

There was a gasp after that.

Lex wavered. Dad, you always told me to be strong, but I can't. Your crime is just too terrible. With that, he allowed his anger to surface. "I told him not to come after my friends! He can't take me having a normal life! There's more to life than just being a rich spoiled brat!"

"Hey," Chloe assured him, holding him close to her. "It's okay."

"Another father scores," Dave growled from the back. "Figures."

Jonathan exchanged looks with his wife and son. He has changed. My God, he really cares. Walking over to the couple in front of him, he took a deep breath and said, "Lex, thank you."

"For...what?" he wondered hesitantly. "I haven't..."

"You have," Jonathan asserted, rubbing his arm. "I'm proud of you."

"You have no idea how long I waited for you to say that before the Talon incident. It still sounds great now. I have to admit that I'm jealous of Clark...."

"For what?"

"He has great parents," Lex complained. "I have an absentee trainer."

The farmer frowned, thinking back to his own relationship with his father. "Chloe, you mind?"

She smiled, grasping his meaning, and stepped aside.

Jonathan embraced Lex and told him. "It's going to be all right. We're behind you."

"We all are," Martha concurred.

"Right," Angie told him.

Adam smiled. He definitely has his father's strength and his mother's scruples. Lillian, you would be proud right now.


A few minutes later, the Mutant X team members were reclining in some of the padded chairs in the sitting room. As with Nick's loft, they marveled at the collection of antiques in Lex's collection. Still, they wondered how the briefing with the others was going.

Finally, Emma felt a familiar presence approaching them. "Dave?"

"Nah. Try 'gain, Emmie," the Child hissed grumpily as he entered the room and threw himself onto the couch.

Brennan and Shalimar exchanged anxious looks.

Jesse asked, "Things went that badly?"

"Nah. We're still pissed. Lex just told 'em all about Unca Lionel. The boy came clean. Did me proud," he growled.

"So, umm, why are you...?" Brennan asked.

"Here?" the Dark One responded. "Do Ah scare ya, Sparky?"

The electrical mutant tensed, expecting an attack.

The Child got up and started rifling through the mini fridge in the corner. "Lessee...what d'we got here? Ah, Bass, the boy's got some taste. Might as well make Big Brother happy. Day's been a bitch already." Grabbing the serrated top, he ripped it off of the bottle and guzzled down the contents, letting the foam run out the sides of his mouth. "Aahh...perfect."

And it's only 10:45 in the morning. "So, what are we doing?" the feral asked.

"Ya'll got a funeral to go to, Kitty. Ah'll tag 'long just in case ya'll need me. Big Brother's got quite the talk in his head. There's 'nother reason Ah'm here. Last night, ya'll pretty bad. Ah'm sorry. Just don't rub it in, 'kay?"

For the second time in ten minutes, he had rendered them all speechless.

Did he just apologize? "Umm, what brought this on?" Jesse wondered.

"Ya'll are pretty good in a fight. In case, Adam's buddy shows up, stand by mah family. Don't worry, Ah'll be there quick," the Child added, starting to feel drowsy. "URRPPHH!!!! BLLUUURRRGGGHHH!!!!!"

"Real heavyweight, ain't cha?" Shalimar sassed.

Emma scanned the Child quickly. His senses are so overloaded right now that he doesn't know which end's up. He's exhausted as well. What do we do?

"Lucky for ya, Ah don't wanna give Big Brother a hangover...." He collapsed back onto the couch into a deep sleep punctuated by twitches and sudden movements.

"Man, I never thought I'd see that," Brennan told his companions, smiling in spite of himself. "Still, who's this buddy of Adam's?"

At that moment, the leader entered the area followed by Lex and Angie. "Have you guys seen Dave?"

"Shhh. The Child's sleeping," Emma told them.

"Isn't it a little early for him to be going for the beer fridge?" Lex wondered.

"Not when you've been on duty as long as we have," Angie told them, rubbing her hand through the sleeping man's hair. "Besides, if all he demolished was a beer, then you're doing great. If you don't mind, I think I might try again to sleep as well." Reclining on the other couch, she snuggled up and attempted to close her eyes.

Motioning for the others to follow him, Adam led them out of the room. "At least, he's out for now."

"Before he went down for the count, Adam, he said something about 'your buddy'," Emma wondered. "To whom was he referring to?"

"Do you remember when we first met? I told you about a dangerous sociopath. Well, he's back. His name is Gabriel Ashlocke, the first child of Genomex."

"What type of new mutant is he, Adam?" Lex posed. "I saw the computer files on somebody called a 'Patient 0'. Is that?"

Adam nodded. "That's Ashlocke all right. He's all four types in one: feral, elemental, molecular and psionic. We'll need to be very careful if he does make an appearance."

"Especially given Dave's outlook right now," Emma surmised, glancing back toward the other room.

"We'll just have to keep a close eye on things is all," Jesse told them.

"Indeed," Lex concurred. "Meanwhile, I need to make sure everything's ready for tomorrow. Do you all need anything?"

"Thanks. We're okay," Adam noted. "Meantime, the kids are at their houses sleeping right now."

"Why don't you try to rest a bit yourselves?" Lex offered. "I had the guestrooms prepared just in case. Then, we'll head into town for a bite to eat if that's all right."

"That sounds like a great idea," the leader concurred. "Let's all get some rest. Where are those rooms?"

"Follow me." With that, Lex led them into the guest wing toward some well-deserved rest.

Additional Spoilers: Smallville: "Tempest" and "Vortex". The encounter between LaCroix and Tony's class was referred to in "Enforcement Matters".

Chapter 18

After dinner, Clark sat on the old couch in the barn loft. Even after three months, things still looked, felt, and smelled the same as they always had. But, just as with the tornado four years earlier, he knew things had changed again. Three months. Who would've believed that everything could change after three months? He recalled the good times with Lana, Miri, and their new classmates including how everyone bonded up the pressure of term papers and grueling workout sessions up at the Sanctuary. Yet, it was now that Clark understood how important the value of friendship really was.

Lex had put on an excellent dinner over at the Talon, closing the doors a bit early, and entertaining everyone with a catered spread of various meats and chicken, a mouth-watering salad, and coffee. The group talked together and commiserated over the losses felt by the Professor and the others.

"Hey, Son," Jonathan called, interrupting the other's reverie. "Want to talk?"

"Always, Dad. Always," Clark accepted, shifting over on the couch. "What's up?"

"I'm proud of you. You were great in how you stood by everyone. Just thought you would like to know that. I also had a question. What happened up there last night?"

The younger man sighed. "It went as Lex and the others said. One minute, we're passing the potatoes and the next-boom. I do remember hearing a ticking sound just before the explosion. I had just enough time to throw myself over Lana, Chloe, and Miri. Dr. Alvaro and her aunt were stuck behind the table. Chloe crawled off to see if she could help anyone. I got Lana and Miri out of the fire and was about to go after Chloe when..". He went pale and stopped.

What's going on? Is he all right? "Clark! Are you okay?" his father asked.

Clark nodded. "I'm fine...I just remember helping Adam and the others get people out. But, the bodies were all around us. Then, after we were out...the house collapsed...with Professor Dubois still inside."

"He got out and so did Chloe, right? What's the problem?"

"He got out all right, but he...well...was losing it. He and Miri tried to save her father, Dad. When he died, Professor Dubois went berserk and took off after the bombers. That's when the glowing lady showed up...."

"Glowing lady?" Jonathan wondered.

"She called herself the Faerie Empress. Anyhow, she did something to me, Dad. It didn't hurt, but now, I'm stronger and invulnerable. And well...I can fly longer distances," Clark noted.

"I aged you," a voice stated from the darkness.

The two men turned to see the Faerie Empress appear beside them.

"Who?" Jonathan asked.

"I am called the Faerie Empress. Let that suffice for now," the elf queen told him. "I wanted to alleviate any concerns about your son's well being."

What is this? Some half-baked nursery rhyme?

"I assure you, this is real, and the forces pitted against mankind are real as well," she stated after reading his thoughts. "Clark performed his task well. He stopped the professor before any real harm could be done. You should be proud of your adopted son, Jonathan Kent."

"And what does he owe you for this boost?" the father demanded.

"Me? Nothing, save to continue using his powers as you taught him. Kal-el, do you swear to do so?" she continued.

"Of course," Clark replied without hesitation.

She smiled. "Stand by your friends in the upcoming days, Kal...Clark. They will need your strength. May the Light continue to shine on you." With that, she disappeared.

Both men sat on the couch, completely stunned by the vision they had just seen.



Janette watched the doors to the El Gato Negro with some consternation. During the previous evening, she had received a call from LaCroix telling her that he was returning on urgent business.

At 10:30 PM, the General entered grimly and descended the stairs. Once at the bar, he asked, "How goes everything, Janette?"

"As well as can be expected, considering the events of last night," she replied. "Nicolas has had his hands full." She put a glass of fresh stock in front of him.

"Yes, I'm sure," he replied flatly, taking a sip and letting the blood energize him. "He contacted me as well. I am expected at his loft with a message from the other Elders. If you will excuse me."

"Of course," she concurred. Message? What could that be?

"As always," he concluded, taking her hand and kissing it before taking off into the night.


Nick took another look around. Ramirez had been good enough to give him half of that night and the next two nights off on funeral leave. However, he also knew that LaCroix would be by to see him. Fortunately, Alyce had lent him some bottles from her supply.

He's close by. Almost here. At that moment, he looked up at the skylight to see his fellow Elder descending to ground level. "LaCroix. How was your flight?"

The General smiled warmly. His senses are more acute than ever. "It was very comfortable, Nicholas. Thank you." He sipped on the drink. "And I see your taste is improving as well?"

"Thank Alyce," the former Crusader informed him. "What's the news from Toronto?"

"The Council is concerned with Ali's activities," the General told him. "Particularly with his new fledgling."

"Eckhart. Yes, Alyce and I ran into them," Nick stated.

"Rumor has it that she handled herself rather well," LaCroix complimented. "There may be hope for her yet. This situation, however, needs to be dealt with, Nicholas."

"And I am."

"Yes, you have contained the Turk's treachery. I will say that. The Council is also grateful for the help of your freakish allies."

Nick glared at him. "They aren't freaks. No more than you or I!"

LaCroix shook his head. No, best not to get into this debate with him now. "I won't discuss this now. I do have business in other parts of the city tonight...condolences to express."

"Keep away from the Duboises," the local Elder told him. "Dave lapsed again earlier today. I don't want a major event here."

The Roman shrugged. "I do have my business. However, I won't cause trouble. I promise," he vowed, allowing a slight air of sarcasm into his voice as he took off.

Tread lightly, LaCroix. Whatever you do, tread lightly.


Eve escorted the Montoyas back to her apartment. Since Dave and Angie had gone to Smallville for the day to make arrangements, she had taken it upon herself to take the grieving family around the city and offer whatever counseling she could. After some effort, she convinced them to share their feelings with her. May Eli help them through this trial. Placing her key in the doorknob, she found it was unlocked.

"Francesca?" she asked. "Are you here?"

Karen gripped her arm. "Eve, just a minute. Allow me."

"All right," the former Messenger agreed, allowing her friend to go first.

Sweeping the area with her senses, the nurse discovered a familiar emptiness. Him? Now? "Mike, keep the kids back." Stepping into the darkness, she challenged, "LaCroix, come out!"

Lucius here? Eve wondered to herself.

The Roman flicked on the light above his head. "Your senses are strong as your friends' abilities, I see."

Mike stared at the intruder, recalling their last encounter in Tony's class.

"I'm really not in the mood to deal with you right now," Karen spat, taking another step toward him and glaring daggers at him.

"Really? And I wanted to offer my respects for the dead," LaCroix stated. "Believe it or not, I am sorry to hear what happened. Terrorism is such nasty business."

"You would know," she shot back, arms crossed.

"Mom, is that Nick's...?" Mika asked.

"Not now," Karen interrupted.

The Toronto Elder chuckled. "Yes, Child, I am the same LaCroix, whom I'm sure you've heard many stories about."

"Stories that are based in fact," Karen informed him firmly, arms crossed across her chest.

The General got up and walked over to his interrogator. "Do not mistake my generosity for an excuse to insult me. I won't hesitate to put you on my list as well. Ask your husband and your friends. I have a very good memory for old accounts."

"As do I," she seethed, her hands crackling with psychic energy.

"Lucius," Eve said, breaking into the developing spitting match. "Your condolences are appreciated. Thank you. Now, please-we don't need a fight."

"For you, I shall depart. We will speak of this again, however," he relented. Staring at Karen, he repeated, "This isn't over." With that, he walked out and across the courtyard.

"Man, Honey, why did you challenge him like that?" Mike worried. "He's going to kill you now!"

"I don't care!" she retorted, the tears falling from her eyes. "He's hurt us all enough without having to deal with him now."

Caroline interjected, "Is that the same man who...?"

Her sister nodded sadly, seeking comfort in her husband's arms.

Eve watched her stepbrother through the window as he headed for his next destination. For once, Lucius, use your head. Please.


[Across the courtyard]

Meantime, Angie and Dave had just put their daughters to bed and had settled in for a cup of coffee apiece. Giving Lauren and Karen the 'grandparents are gone' speech was difficult enough. Now, believing it themselves was going to be even more grueling.

Across from them, Adam and Emma sat silently, each trying to enjoy a cup of tea and silently preparing for the events of the next day. On the way back from Smallville, he had shown everyone the file on Ashlocke. They saw that he was everything they feared. He was the Child with the taste for human blood and a god complex.

The psionic focused on the twins, putting good thoughts into their heads. Surprisingly, it had been easy to focus her new blasting ability once she put her mind to it. It's important that they sleep. Those two will need to be strong tomorrow.

"Do you think that Ashlocke would strike at the funeral?" Dave asked.

"I hope not," Adam conceded. "However, he would like to make a public spectacle. He's challenging you, Dave."

"Figures," the professor cracked, taking a gulp from his French Vanilla mixture. Then, he felt the familiar emptiness outside of the door. "Shit!"

"What? I? Him here?" Angie wondered, her own blood pressure increasing. "Be right back." With that, she rushed into the bathroom and changed into Xena.

Adam looked at the door. "What is it?"

Emma felt her friend's moodiness and then, matched it to the presence approaching the door. Her mind shuffled back through the memories it had absorbed from the professor's psyche. One stuck out....The night in Tony Samuelsohn's class...the challenge...from the vampire master himself. The man from the class is here. "Adam, this is serious!"

"You have no idea," Dave told her. Seeing that Xena was ready, he opened the door telekinetically. "What do you want, LaCroix? I'm not in the mood."

"I know. So do all of the vampires on the Eastern seaboard," the General declared dryly. "Your tantrum awoke us all. The Council is--shall I say?-concerned about this little mess of yours."

"It ain't our mess, Lucius," the warrior declared flatly, drawing her sword. "And for once, it ain't your fault either."

"How big of you, Xena." He smirked. "As Nicholas has reminded me already, there has been enough trouble for one week. I quite agree. I'm here to offer my condolences for your losses, Dubois, and to offer a temporary truce."

"As you just said, 'how big of you'," Dave remarked, taking another mouthful of coffee. What's his deal in being here now?

"The Community wishes to help in hunting down the responsible parties."

"We're already on it," Dave pointed out.

"Ah. Your agent friend, I trust? Yes...well...he is resourceful. I'll give you that," the Roman continued. Then, glancing over at the others, he asked, "And who are these two? She seems to be one of your freakish brethren."

"I'm a new mutant, yes," Emma stated. "That doesn't make me a freak."

"No more so than your kind," Adam added. "If you have issues with her and the other Children of Genomex, then you talk to me."

"So, you're Adam," LaCroix realized, recalling the information he had received on the project. "We finally meet. So how does it feel to play God, hmmm? Your monstrosity walks about and murders their families and yet, you sit there?"

"You're Lucius of Pompeii, correct?"

"That was my name...once."

"You're a butcher on a gross scale. You twist mankind in your likeness, and you have the nerve to challenge me? What I do is science and is in the interest of saving people! You do so for your own ends!" Adam challenged.

LaCroix snarled. So much like the Doctor. Where does Nicholas find these insolent mortals?

"The way you perverted Eve before all of that," Xena added coldly, allowing her blade to slide across the back of his neck as a reminder of their own debt.

"That issue will be resolved one day," the vampire promised.

"Bring it on. I'll be waitin'," she hissed darkly, her eyes narrowed into slits, and her mouth twisted into a sinister smile.

Nicholas, if you weren't Elder, he said to himself. "I'll be close by tomorrow as will Divia. If anything happens, we'll be waiting."

"Do that. Oh, LaCroix?" Dave called.


"Believe it or not...thank you for the thought. I do appreciate it," the medievalist expressed.

"You're...quite welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a charter to catch at the airport. I must be back in Toronto by dawn." With that, he departed.

"So that's LaCroix?" Emma gasped, shaking a bit in fear from his presence.

"Amazing," Adam remarked.

"He's a blowhard," Dave stated. "No more, no less. C'mon, let's get you both fixed up for bed."

The two guests followed his lead into the guest room leaving Xena to stare at the sky. Please let us get through the ritual in peace.

Chapter 19

Clark walked through the Talon's front door depressed and moody. He had been unable to sleep during that time, staring at the ceiling of his room and even pacing about from time to time. Well, it's almost here.

At a corner booth, Lex, Chloe, and Lana waved somberly to him.

"Hey, guys," he greeted, trying not to seem too sad.

"Take a seat, Clark," Lex invited, pointing to the empty spot next to his business partner. "Want anything?"

"Actually, I think I'll get a frappucino."

The businessman signaled for a waitress who took the order and scurried away.

Clark glanced at his friends who were dressed in their Sunday best even as he was. "You all look great."

"You do too, Clark," Lana complimented, hugging him. "What's wrong? You seem glum even under these circumstances."

Looking about, he made sure that everyone was out of earshot before continuing, "I feel that I should've saved the others."

"Life doesn't work like that," Lex remarked, sipping on his coffee.

Chloe cleared her throat. "Oh yeah...and maybe you should've stopped the bank robbery in the next county while you were at it. Clark, Lana, Miri, and I are here because you saved us. Well, okay...Professor Dubois had a hand where I was concerned."

"You're a hero, Clark. You held everything together," Lana insisted, rubbing his arm. "I still can't believe you did what you did."

"Dave meant what he said yesterday," Lex reminded him. "I'd listen if I were you."

"Okay. As long as you accept what my Dad said to you yesterday, Lex," Clark replied earnestly.

The entrepreneur smiled. "You got a deal, Clark. Now drink up. Our ride will be here soon."

"What was with the van out in the alley, Lana?" Chloe wondered.

"I bought a massive order of flowers from both Nell and the florists up in the local area. That church is going to look magnificent tonight for them," Lex indicated.

Leave it to Lex to take care of everything. Clark grinned. "This is really nice of you, Lex."

"Clark, I have to do something. My father is responsible for this trip today not to mention nearly blowing you all to Hell and back. This is my way of being a good friend, all right?"

"Sure. By the way, Lana, I left Mom's tulips with Nell. She wishes that she and Dad could come, but they're afraid that a problem's going to pop up if you get my drift," Clark continued.

Can't even have a decent funeral because of your rabid dog, Dad. Way to go. "It's too bad, but I think it's for the best. I'll arrange for them to pay their respects later if they wish," Lex stated.

"Dad feels the same way," Chloe pointed out, hugging Lex's shoulders. "Lex, he was talking about resigning from the plant after this mess."

Can't say that I blame him. "After we get back, Chloe, I'm going to have a talk with him. Your father's a good man. I don't want to lose him. I'm prepared to offer him something, but I need board approval first."

What would that be? "Hopefully, it's something good?"

"Would I treat you or your Dad any other way?" he asked, kissing her cheek. "I love you, Chloe. Your father's been a loyal supervisor for me. Granted, there are times when he's talked a bit too much, but he's a good worker and a good man. I want people like that around me."

At that moment, Adam walked in with Dave and Angie.

"Ready to go?" Dave asked. "I saw the flowers out there."

"They're a team effort," Lana informed him.

"Well, thank you once again," Angie sighed, trying to keep her composure. "Everyone's waiting for us."

"Deirdre's going to transport the van there after we leave," Adam explained.

"Well then, let's go," Clark stated, climbing from the booth and helping his girlfriend from her seat.

After Lex had done the same for Chloe, the group left the restaurant and boarded the cloaked ship. Two minutes later, they were on their way northeast.


[Wabash-Three hours later]

Brother Tony inspected the church carefully to make sure everything was in order. Later that afternoon, the flowers would arrive and be arranged throughout the area. Still, being the neat person that he was, he wanted to make sure every shelf looked perfect and not a speck of dust could be found anywhere.

Bill, Jennifer, this is going to be special for both of you. I'll make sure of it.

Then, a rapping came from the door.

"Excuse me, Brother Tony?" a voice inquired.

The minister glanced in that direction to see a heavy set older man standing there. He smiled warmly. "Richard! It's good to see you again, my friend. Although, I wish it were under different circumstances."

Shaking the minister's hand, the priest replied, "I know. It's a shame that we're always too busy except in the gravest of situations. My condolences on the loss of your parishioners."

"And my condolences on the loss of several friends of yours and mine," Tony expressed solemnly. "Since this is going to be an interdenominational service, I am glad you can preach and my pulpit is open to you to do so."

"Thank you for the courtesy. I wanted to go over the sermons if we could. Would you mind?" Richard requested.

"Not at all, my friend. Come, I'll buy you lunch and we can talk of these things," Tony advised him, leading him from the church and securing the doors.


[Genomex-About 5 PM]

Lionel Luthor looked at himself in the mirror and smoothed his suit. I shouldn't be there, but Stuart was a friend. Damn you, Ashlocke, for going so far. When he was satisfied, he left the area quickly, making his way to the parking garage. Once in his car, he drove off to the east, heading towards Albany.


Back inside of the facility, Ashlocke conceived his plans. So, they want a funeral do they? I'll give them more to mourn than they ever thought possible. By the time I'm done with Adam and the Duboises, they'll wish they had never been born.

Two of his followers waited for his directive. He told them, "Tell the others to get into position around the church. It's almost time for the festivities to start."

He grinned wickedly. This is going to be a night they'll never forget.

Additional Note: The fight between Dave and Divia took place in "Children of Darkness".

Chapter 20 [Wabash Community Church-Just after sunset]

With all of the preparations going on for the funeral, the day passed quickly for the Duboises and their friends. By mid-afternoon, the flowers were in place, the catering company started preparing food, and everyone had started arriving from out of town.


Lex and Chloe stood at the church door, watching as the local parishioners and invited guests filtered inside.

Despite the emotions raging inside of him, he was all business. No way are you going to pull anything, Dad.

As if on cue, the object of his thoughts came over. "Quite an affair, isn't it, Lex?"

He actually showed up. The bastard! Calm yourself, Chloe, she told herself.

"Well, if it isn't the mastermind himself? Last time I checked, it was a little brazen for the killer to show up at the victims' funeral. That went out of style with the Chicago mob," the son accused.

"You can't prove anything. I'm here as a grieving friend," Lionel denied.

She snorted rather rudely.

"That's for the police to decide," Lex stated, signaling out the door for Lieutenant Rivers, Steve and Garthr.

"Mr. Lionel Luthor, I presume?" Rivers inquired.

"That's right."

"Lieutenant Rivers, Massachusetts State Police. These are FBI agents, Steven Petersen and Garth Singleton. Gentlemen?" Rivers explained.

"You are under arrest, Sir, for murder, arson, assault and battery, terrorism not to mention countless tax irregularities. You have the right to remain silent...." Steve added, cuffing him.

"You can't do this!"

"If you wave that right, anything may and will be used in a court of law..."

"Let's go, Luthor," Garth stated.

"Lex, let Dave know we'll be back ASAP," Steve assured him.

"We will," Chloe agreed.

"You'll regret this, Lex! I guarantee it!" Lionel vowed as he was being led away.

"Bye, Dad," Lex waved. As soon as his father was out of sight, a tear ran down his cheek and he frowned. I hate myself for that. But, oh, does it feel good. I hope he rots.

"Hey, Luthor, you enjoyed that, didn't you?" Chloe cracked.

"I hate to admit it, but I did. I've waited so long to see that, ever since he tried to close the plant. Now, he's gone and I have to figure out what to do next," he admitted.

"Let's worry about that later, okay? First, we need to stand by our friends. Then, we can worry about that. Oh, Lex?" she told him.


"I'm really proud of you," she told him, kissing him. It may not be appropriate for a funeral, but let everyone deal with it. "Now, let's go."

"Yes'm," he agreed, taking her hand and leading her to their seat.


Just to the right of the baptistery, Nick kept a sharp eye as well. As we get closer to the service, anything could happen.

"Nicholas?" LaCroix asked.

The detective turned to see his former master and Divia standing behind him. He had sensed them coming, but was too preoccupied with the events around him. "Thank you both for coming."

"I wouldn't have missed another visit to this quaint town for anything," she noted with a bit of sarcasm.

"Considering the last time you were here, you helped to destroy a part of it?" the Tucson Elder reminded her.

"That happened while I was under Dahak's influence," she informed him frankly.

"Just make sure it doesn't happen again," Dave advised as he approached them.

"It won't. At least not that publicly," she added, flashing her eyes at him.

In reply, his left eye went red even as the right one closed.

"Jus' try it. Ah'm ready," the Child told her. "Now, if trouble comes, you're free to help us play."

LaCroix winced. The two of them going ballistic is the last thing we need. It's bad enough to be in a church for this garish affair, but to deal with such mayhem, especially with one of Ashlocke's power. The reports that he had read on the drive from Albany had told him all he needed to know about Dave's next potential adversary. "Be careful, you two. You as well, Nicholas. Trouble comes on swift wings when we wish for it to occur."

"You should know," Nick jabbed to spite the Roman. "I reserved a couple of seats for you both in the back...well away from the sacramental items."

"Thank you for the courtesy, Nicholas. Remember, if they do attack, Dubois, all you have to do is call on us," the General reminded him. "However, if the minister is attacked, I will intercede. He is still mine!"

"No, he isn't, but we can settle that later," the professor denied. "Let's think good thoughts." Seeing LaCroix's sarcastic smile, he continued pointedly, "I mean it. Now, I have to look in on my wife." With that, he rushed off.

"You heard the man," Nick added. "See you both later." With that, he milled back through the crowd to find Alyce.


Along the left wall, Adam and the members of Mutant X also kept a sharp eye out for possible trouble.

Gabriel, I hope you stay well away from here. You've already done enough. He recalled the initial joy at Ashlocke's successful birth. However, that was followed by sorrow over the mutant's sociopathic behavior. At the age of twelve, he had murdered his parents. Forced against a wall, Adam had invented the sub-dermal governor and the pods to contain the angry young man. Now, he's back, looking for revenge.

"Hey. What's wrong?" Shalimar asked.

"Oh, nothing," Adam denied.

"Yeah right," Emma disagreed. "You have that 'concerned' look on your face. Is it about that guy?"

"Yes. He loves a public display," the leader worried.

"With all of us here?" Brennan chuckled. "He doesn't have a chance."

"That is if he can get through Dave," Jesse remarked.

Toni shuddered, grasping his hand tightly. Now there's something I don't want to see again.

Adam shrugged and went back to surveying the room. Danger could come from any angle. Let's hope it doesn't.


On the far side of the room, Max and Logan sat impatiently waiting for the service to begin.

I hate these things. She wriggled in the pew.

"Something bothering you?" he wondered.

"Yeah, this whole thing. Are you sure we need to be here?"

"Yes. Look, Max, I know you don't like funerals. Neither do I. However, we do need to make an appearance. Besides, those goons could show up."

She grinned, thinking of what the professor would do to them. That might just be worth the price of admission in itself. "If they do, they're fresh meat."

"Anyhow, we're almost ready to start. Keep your wits about you. Okay?" he requested.

We're in a freaking church for Pete's sake! This should be the last place to worry, but stranger things have happened. After the other night, I'm more than ready for something to happen.


In the back room, Angie inspected the twins' dresses, making sure they looked extra special. She smiled. "They would be very happy to see you like this, you know."

"Really, Mama?" Karen asked.

"Absolutely," she asserted, managing a smile. "Now, go sit with Great-Grandpa Alex, okay?"

"Okay," Lauren replied. "C'mon, Karen." With that, the girls left for the front.

Angie watched them depart and sighed. They're getting so big. With all that's been going on, they been growing up right under our noses. She sniffled and her eyes watered.

Dave rubbed her shoulders. "It's going to be okay, Princess. Really."

"How, Dave? How?" she sobbed. "They're gone! Our families are gone!"

Oh, how do you sooth over this crease, Chief? How? "I don't know," he admitted, hugging her. "I really don't know. We'll just have to take one day at a time. Meantime, let's do them proud, okay? I remember when Grandma Dubois passed away; she asked one thing of me. That during the service, there were no tears and that I spoke my mind truthfully and completely, remembering the good times and having no regrets. You and Karen are lucky that you had such great parents. They saved me."

"I...I know," she acknowledged. "To see everything wiped off the map at once. And now, they might hit here? How do we...?"

"If they do, they do," he declared, allowing a dark snarl to escape his lips. "But they're very heavily outnumbered if they do between Nick and LaCroix, Xena, Gabrielle, Mutant X, Clark, and Miri not to mention Cybelle, Deirdre and me. Finally, Steve, Garth, and Lieutenant Rivers have the cops ready to pounce. Let them come. I'm not afraid."

"And if they hurt us or the girls?"

"Me, I'm not worried about. If they touch you or the girls, they'll deal with the Child. Heaven help them then," he advised. "We're drawing the line in the sand here. I won't let anything more happen, Angie."

A knocking came from the door. "Dave? We're almost ready out here," Nick told them.

"We'll be there in a minute. Thanks," the professor related. "Ready, Princess?"

"Not really, but I guess we have to, huh? Hold my hand?" she responded, holding out her left hand.

"Always," he smiled, kissing it and her. "Remember, I love you and we're in this together."

With that, they walked out into the seating area.
Additional Note: The situation related to Dave's game is outlined in the "Most Important Game".

Chapter 21

Seeing that everyone was seated, Brother Tony ordered the doors closed and began the service. "Good evening, everyone, and thank you for coming. Tonight, we gather to bid farewell to several victims of the recent fire at the Blackwell farm. The occasion was supposed to be a festive one celebrating the return of our long lost sister, Miranda, to her family after so many years. Friends both old and new gathered and others were on the way when disaster struck...."

He glanced at the urns in front of him. "Taking some."

"Scarring others." He looked at Angie sympathetically.

"And tearing open old wounds." His gaze now lay squarely on Dave.

"But, from the disaster and the test, several individuals in this room rose to the challenge to save lives and hold back the tide of chaos." He looked at Clark, Max, Nick, and the Mutant X members.

"No matter who or what we are, we are all a community-as David would like to say-a Community of Tolerance...respecting our diversity and individuality as a whole. Tonight, we all need to gather together and support each other. I'd like to ask that each of you say a prayer in your own faith now."

The room went quiet as everyone bowed their heads and whispered prayers.

Even LaCroix and Divia took the time to consider what was going on.

After a minute had passed, Tony continued, "I knew Bill and Jennifer Blackwell as long as I've been here in Wabash which is almost forty years now. They were good friends to me, good neighbors to everyone, and the best parents for their daughter. Now, Angela, would you like to say something?"

She fought back a wave of sadness and forced herself to her feet. Despite her internal need to break down, she recalled Dave's admonition and called upon her own inner strength. When she reached the podium, she took a deep breath.

["Remember, I'm here with ya," Xena told her.]

["Thank you," she sniffled.]

"Everyone. Thank you for coming tonight. What can I say about my parents? Only that they were always there for me. They instilled a desire to work hard and be fair to others in me. They taught me what it means to be a good person and a citizen of the world. They were warm and charitable people who would help anyone. It doesn't make sense that somebody would want to hurt them much less commit the act that happened last week. It did happen, however, and so, we need to honor them tonight for who they were. Because that's the way I'll remember them and my children will remember them. You'll hear Dave talk more about this later when he delivers his piece. Before I step down, I want to express my sorrows as well for the Alvarezes and Duboises. Maybe our relations weren't always the greatest, but they were always kind to me. The world is a much emptier place tonight without them. Thank you," she declared, returning to her seat.

Brother Tony went over to Angie and asked, "Are you okay?"

"Fine," she stammered, snuggling up against Dave.

"Very well," the minister stated. "Father Richard?"

"Thank you, Brother Tony," the priest accepted, stepping onto the pulpit. "Both you and Angela have spoken of the virtues of the Blackwells. We met only once and it was in passing, I'm afraid. Even then, I was struck by their warmth, goodness and generosity. They will be missed. The others I knew quite well. Before they moved to Scituate, I was the Alvarezes' priest and they were loyal parishioners. They never missed a Sunday in twenty years. I baptized their three children. Now, I watch as one of them follows his parents. Karen and Caroline, would you?"

The two sisters stood and made their way toward the front.

"Karen, would you mind?" Caroline requested, choking up. "I...I'm sorry."

Karen nodded. "It's okay, Sis. Mike, can you?"

Her husband jumped out of his seat and guided his sister-in-law back without a further word edgewise.

The nurse looked at Dave who nodded firmly even as he held his wife. No matter what, we're still close. "Thank you. I don't know how much more I can add to what Angie said except to say thank you to my parents for giving me a good home and showing me the value of charity and friendship. My parents were simple people. My brother was a nice guy who was just starting to discover his path in life. They floored me when they opened their house to a stranger many years ago...a friend who needed a sanctuary. The transition wasn't easy and admittedly, when I fell in love with the boarder, well...things got interesting. However, everyone grew from the experience, and they loved...him like a son...and a brother....I miss all of you..."

With that, she broke down, losing her composure.

Mike stepped up to the podium and guided his wife down, gently consoling her all of the way.

Brother Tony returned to the front. "Finally, I would ask the remaining two members if the Dubois family if they would come forward. David and Cybelle?"

Dave grasped his wife's hand. ["Are you going to be all right?"]

["I'll make it. Do us proud, okay?"]

He stepped up to the front and took a deep breath watching his sister proceed down the aisle in her full Althanorian regalia. She's determined to do it her own way. Way to go, Cybbie .

"You can go first," he offered.

"Thank you," she accepted. "Well, suffice it to say, that none of us expected to be here. This morning, I sat in my favorite meditation spot, wondering what I was going to say to you all. Finally, the goddess whom I worship bade me to be honest with you and come to the point. I will be frank with you. My brother and I had two entirely different experiences with our parents. They were kind to me even if I stepped out of line. Dad wasn't a picnic to deal with, but he and Mom were steady influences. Even after I returned from my training, Mom knew and she stood beside my decision even if she didn't agree with it. Dad always had problems with things that were different. I wish he had been more tolerant of individuality when it didn't agree with his own. As for Randy, I wish he had the chance to be as good a father to Miranda as he was a brother to me and to Dave-when the opportunity was there. I'll miss you all and my heart hurts at your absence. I will always love you. Dave?"

"Thanks, Sis," he replied, sucking up a deep breath and rubbing her shoulder as he tried to compose himself. "As Cybelle just pointed out, we did have different paths. In this context, rather than speak to the negative, I want to keep to the positive...."

A deep breath. "Mom, I'm glad we did finally get to know each other after all of those years. We both had our problems, but we worked them out after you left Dad. Thank you for bringing me to Amherst and leaving me with the best of friends."

Another deep breath. "Randy, I know we didn't see eye to eye very often, but I admired you from afar. As I said to you before you died, you were the best. I'll miss you. Don't worry about Miranda. I'll keep her safe."

A sigh. "Gram, you and Grandpa opened the world to me...daring me to dream and to step forward. For that, I'll always be grateful. For being a rock, I'll always love you."

By now, he was shuddering, trying to keep the change from happening. Tears streaked his cheeks, but he pushed ahead. "As for the Alvarezes, I can't say thank you enough for what you did for me. You gave me a home, stability, and love that I desperately needed. Granted, I know that Charles wasn't too sure of me at first, but he was another brother to me, and we trusted each other with everything. I remember the Most Important Game being a prime example of that fact. We had to win that one. Right, Karen?"

"You didn't have a choice on that one," she managed to say.

"Anyhow, I'm pitching with a 104 degree fever, but it didn't matter. Charles guided me sign by sign through each batter, knowing what they could do and what I had left in the tank. We won the game because of it. Now, when I get up on the mound, I won't have my battery mate. It's going to be hard," he reminisced.

"More on Dr. and Mrs. A., they were always strict but fair. We didn't always agree, but they wanted the best for me and treated me as one of their own...even after the fits started. They brought me back from Smallville, working with the Kents and Lillian Luthor to make sure I would be okay. I remember they bought the boy a medal for stopping our fathers from killing me. Is the boy here?"

Lex stood and revealed the medal hanging around his neck, showing it for about ten seconds before sitting back down.

Dave continued, "Finally, I have to say that I fought my father on their behalf as well, but they were worth it. I love you. Now, as for Mama and Papa B, what a couple they are. I can't say enough about them. What Angie said is so true. They opened the doors of the farmhouse to me without a second thought. Well maybe, there was...Mr. B. watched guys who'd come courting his little girl, you see. That first weekend, we did chores together, went fishing, and ran errands. You know, farm boy stuff."

Seeing a helpful grin from Clark, he pressed on. "After that weekend, we talked quite a bit on the phone and became close. They stood by me through some pretty serious trials. All they asked was that I take care and honor their daughter. That's easy. They didn't have to be such good in-laws. They were like gold. I will miss them. I'll miss Mama B.'s apple cake and her 'land sakes' expressions when something's going on. I'll miss Papa B.'s warm smile and determined attitude about things. I'll miss you...."

Taking another deep breath, he fought back another spasm. Seeing his sister's stern expression, he turned to his father. "And then, there's my father. What do I say about him? He did help bring me into this world. He taught me about hard work and discipline. However, and I'm sorry, Cybelle, there's a lot of negatives as well. Dad, I hope you can find peace now. The peace that you sought so hard in this life. The peace that you denied to me. I bear you no ill will, but I will have to live with the pain as well as the Other. Believe it or not, I do love you. Someday, I hope we'll meet again, and you'll understand that my way is just as valid as yours."

At that moment, a voice shot out from the back. "Sappy speech. I would've expected better from you, Dubois."

Everyone turned toward the door to see a man strut through with a smug grin on his face. "Then again, you didn't have the jewels to kill Dad yourself, did you?"

At the podium, Dave shook with rage, wondering how much longer he could control it. You won't change. You won't change.

Chapter 22

Brother Tony made his way down to the back of the room. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I'm here to pay my respects too-such as they are," Ashlocke chuckled. Lifting the minister telekinetically, he threw him across the room.

Dave focused; creating a cushion of mental energy that softened the impact. "Are you okay?"

"F...Fine," Tony told him. "David, remember there is no violence in God's house."

The professor sighed. He's right. "Gabriel Ashlocke, I presume."

"I see my reputation precedes me," the intruder mentioned.

"No, just the telltale stench." Dave jabbed, stepping down from the podium. "Not to mention the yellow streak down your back."

Dave, don't, Adam thought to himself, wincing at the prospect of a fight.

"You know I can help you and all of our kind. Join me. I really don't want to have to dole out any more pain," Ashlocke offered, flinging a pamphlet across the room to the professor.

Dave looked at Angie. ["Get the twins out of here and then, you and Francesca bring help if you get my drift."]

["Absolutely."] With that, she gathered their daughters and pushed them out of the back door.

"Where are they going?"

"Out. I don't want them exposed to the likes of you. This is between us," Dave remarked flipping through the blue pamphlet. "The Strand, huh? Did you come up with that all by yourself, Asscrock? Sorry, not interested. In that, I speak for myself and my students."

"But you're all alone. I'll beat you like a drum. You especially have so much potential, Dubois. We're so much alike..."

Dave chuckled darkly. "We could have been so much alike. We both hated our parents. I didn't step over the line. I'm not the patricide here." Holding up the pamphlet to a candle, he ignited it. "That's what I think of your offer. In fact, I have an offer for you. Surrender or I'll show you the real meaning of a beating."

He has resolve. I'll give him that. "I'm a god!"

Dave laughed derisively, "I've seen gods. I've fought gods. I've fought demons. I've fought trolls. I've fought god wannabes. Trust me, you're not even in their ballpark. You're not even in the Bush Leagues as far as I'm concerned. Give it up."

Ashlocke growled and fired an energy burst across the room.

Dave hit the wall hard, but the energy soaked into him, triggering the change. "Rrrrr...."

Tony stood up. "Not in God's house!"

"You are tiresome, Old Man," the intruder hissed. "I should kill you right now." A telekinetic yank pulled the minister into his grasp. "I wonder what would happen if I killed you, hmmm?"

"You would regret it," LaCroix challenged, separating them. "Listen to Dubois, you idiot."

"A real vampire. Will wonders never cease?" Ashlocke scoffed, blasting him back across the room. "Dubois! Come on!"

"Ah'm here, Jackass," the Child hissed, getting to his feet. "Now ya'll are gonna git it! Outside! Now!"

The mutant started to laugh before two strong hands grabbed him and yanked him back through the door. "Ya heard the man!" Xena declared. "Adam, we could use a hand out here! He's got backup!"

"Ya mean there's more? Yeah! 'Mon!" the Dark One cracked enthusiastically. He wanted blood and he was going to get it. "Hey, Sis, Maxie, ya comin'?" Not waiting for an answer, he rushed outside.

The high priestess grinned ferally. "I wouldn't miss this for anything." She disappeared into the mists.

Damn straight. Max concurred, following them out. About time I get to kick some serious ass.

"Clark," Adam requested. "You need to stay here with me and the others, okay?" If we have to expose ourselves, there's no reason for him to do so as well. "Ready, everyone?"

"Let's do it," Brennan agreed.

"I'm game," Shalimar grinned.

Jesse and Emma silently nodded.

"Be careful," he directed, watching them charge forth. And so it starts....


The Child hit the grass hard as he'd been hit leaving the church. Miserable bastards. Now, Ah'm really pissed!

"Was that enough for you?" Ashlocke chuckled egotistically. "This is your last chance."

"Kiss mah ass!" In addition, he fired a pulse knocking his opponent to the ground. "Now, ya're not fightin' women and kids! Ya got me and Ah'm more than 'nough for ya!" Ripping off two more blasts, he staggered Ashlocke despite the latter's psychic shielding.

Where did this come from? Ashlocke leapt up and using his feral abilities climbed the church, reaching the roof in seconds. At least, I've managed some distance. Then his psionic powers picked up a darker presence behind him. Turning, he saw Nick standing there. "What? How?"

"You're not going anywhere else," the detective asserted, allowing his eyes to turn color and fangs to descend. "And don't worry, he'll be here in just a minute."

"Right," the combination mutant scoffed. "As if he can fly too."

Nick shrugged. "He's full of surprises."

"Hey! Now, the chicken shit's a birdie!" the Child snickered. "Wait a sec!" With that, he rose into the air, floating up to steeple level.

Ashlocke frowned. Damn it, he can fly.

"Ya can run, but ya can't hide from us!" Uncorking another double blast, he sent his enemy spiraling to the ground. Have a nice trip, Asshole. Watching the other land on some hay bales, he cracked, "Well, I guess it's not true."

"What?" Nick wondered.

"Cats don't always land on their feet after all," the Dark One cracked. "Ooh lookie, lookie, lookie...Xena's about to have some fun with Asscrock. Let's have us some more fun!" Stepping off of the roof, he levitated to the ground.

I can't let him commit murder. Nick quickly followed.


[Minutes earlier]

Meantime, the fighting was intense at ground level as the new mutants struggled with each other. Only the intercession of Xena, Gabrielle, Cybelle, and Eve were Max and Mutant X able to gain the upper hand against the members of the Strand.

During one particularly brutal stretch of fighting, Brennan was engaged with a fellow elemental, a pyrokinetic.

She tossed a fireball at him.

He tried to deflect it, but when he did, something strange happened. Instead of shooting electricity, they fired a rocket burst, propelling him into the wall hard.

"That was interesting," the pyro laughed. "Now, you're finished!" Just as she willed up a blast, a whizzing sound came out of nowhere and a metallic streak gashed her arm, deflecting her aim at the last minute.

"Now, didn't your mother ever tell ya not to play with fire?" Xena growled.

"Didn't yours?" The elemental summoned up another fire blast.

Seeing Sebastian walk up behind her adversary, the warrior dared, "Take yer best shot, but there's something ya oughtta know first. Water puts out fire."

"As if that's going to help you now," the other woman laughed and tensed to fire.

Suddenly, a water jet nailed her from behind, soaking her thoroughly.

"Actually, it will," Shannon added, creating a vacuum around the elemental just long enough for her to black out.

"Thanks, you two," Xena expressed. Seeing Ashlocke fall to the hay, her face turned dark. "Keep an eye on him, I got some business to attend to!" With that, she ran off toward the church.

The two students helped Brennan to sit up. "What happened?" they inquired.

"I...I don't know," he said hesitantly, looking at his hands.

Shalimar clobbered an opposing feral and rushed over to their side. "I've got him! Go!" After they left, she hugged him, asking, "How did you do that?"

"Beats me. By the way, your back was turned, so how did you...? Wait a minute; you have eyes in the back of your head, right? New power?" he inquired.

"Yeah," she agreed. "C'mon, let's go and finish this mess. Then, we can worry about everything else."

"Right," he agreed, gripping her hand firmly. Climbing to his feet, he followed her back into the battle raging about them.

Spoiler Note: Perdicas was killed in "The Return of Callisto" Xena Season 2

Chapter 23

As the fighting went on out front, the two clergymen managed to lead the "normal" folks out the back of the church, down the alley, and pointed them to the safety of the woods beyond. Within five minutes, the church was empty save for the Smallville quartet and Adam.

"You all should go as well," Father Richard advised.

"No. Our place is here," Chloe asserted. "Beside our friends."

Before either clergyman could protest, Lex continued, "Clark's shown me that friendship is the greatest thing in the world...any world. Trust is another."

Lana winced and rocked on her feet. The feeling is so strong and dark. What is it?

"Lana!" Clark exclaimed caringly.

"Clark...there's something else going on here. Something happened earlier in this place. But what? What happened?" she groaned.

He held her tightly to him. I won't let anything happen. If they come back in here, I'll give them a fight they'll never forget.

Brother Tony frowned. She senses the vibrations from the battle between David and that female vampire. Amazing, she can still feel the emanations coming from that conflict. Of course, it destroyed so much of the town.

"Tell them, Minister," Divia urged approaching them. "Tell them."

"About what?" Clark demanded.

"About how your precious professor and I fought here and razed this entire hamlet to the ground!" she cackled.

"You attacked us and provoked him, monster!" the elderly man responded vehemently, stepping away and holding up the cross. "He and Nicholas defeated you and that other Hell spawn."

"Now what would Gabrielle say to that, hmm?" the girl-vampire chided. "Seriously, we need to prevent Dubois and the others from killing that arrogant intruder."

"How would you know that?" LaCroix scoffed, rising from the pile at the back of the church.

How good of him to finally rejoin the party. "Because Michael's looking for an excuse to send him to Hell, Lucius. That's why. Remember the duel? Dubois was supposed to kill Dijon with the sword, not by fire. For defying the order, he's supposed to go down there."

How can that be possible? "I don't believe you!" Brother Tony growled. "You lie!"

"Why would you care?" Richard added.

Divia shrugged. "Believe me or not, I don't care. The point is that it will happen unless we stop him. Nicholas is already on his way, but he might need some help. It's up to you all, I would say."

Clark steadied his girlfriend on the bench. I can't leave her and yet, I need to go. What can I do?

"Clark, I'll be fine. Professor Dubois needs you. Go," she told him.

"We'll stay with her," Adam indicated. "Chloe and I can keep an eye on things here."

"Right. Lex, be careful," she agreed, exchanging glances with him.

Lana let her eyes shine into Clark's for a moment, once again affirming her belief.

The two men ran off toward the scene, hoping to step in before it was too late.

LaCroix shook his head as he followed in their wake. Hurry, Nicholas. Stop this before it's too late.



Meanwhile, Michael and Raphael glanced into the viewing pool. The events down below had kept the other angels busy, particularly Lorenzo who busied himself with guiding his family members to their proper places. The two archangels were concerned with the battle's progress. Predictably, the defenders' furor enabled them to drive back their attackers, but now, the turning point was so close.

He will pay for defying me, Michael thought to himself.

"Is this necessary?" Raphael protested. "His family is lost! Why punish him further?"

"It's a test of faith, Raphael. I'm counting on him to fail," the blonde archangel noted.

Well, I'm not. The other archangel continued to watch and hope against his companion's wishes.



Ashlocke rubbed his forehead. Ow. Remind me not to do that again. "Stupid hay esavd me...."

"Yeah, lucky you," a familiar voice growled.

The mutant opened his eyes to see Xena standing over him holding her sword at his throat.

Her eyes were dark and streaked with Angie's tears. Her arms were coiled like two deadly springs ready to administer the final strike.

He looked about him, trying to find help from his followers, but around him, the battle was winding down and his side had lost. Already, he saw some of them being secured by Adam's team and the others. Still more limped off into the woods seeking cover. Ingrates! Cowards!

"Go ahead. Call out to 'em," she taunted. "They're too busy saving themselves." She saw the Child approaching from one angle and Cybelle from another. "Looks like the crew's here."

Seeing the trio stare down at him with cruel malice, Ashlocke felt the icy grip of fear for the first time.

The priestess summoned a charge, making her hands glow a bright shade of crimson.

Likewise, the Dark One's hands glowed bright white, his leer telling the victim that there would be no quarter.


Lex and Clark watched the events unfolding in front of them.

I can't let him do this, Lex told himself as he burst forward.

"Lex! Wait! Come back!"

"Sorry, Clark! I've got to do this." With that, Lex ran toward the scene, stopping about five feet away from it. "Don't kill him!"

"What?" the avenging figures chorused.

Lex stared into the Child's eyes. My God, he's really far gone. But, I've got to reach him. Swallowing nervously and marshaling his courage, he insisted, "You don't want this!"

"An' why the Hell not?" the Dark One bellowed taciturnly. "He destroyed our family! How dare ya? Considerin' that it was your Daddy that sicced 'im on us!"

The businessman took another breath before continuing, "I won't deny that and I'm sorry. But if you kill him, then both of our fathers win! If you all kill him, then you prove his point-that you all are monsters. Your father also gets the last laugh because he'll drive you over the line. Don't do it. Please, don't."

"He's right," Nick insisted, touching down beside him. "But the choice is yours."

For several seconds, the air was heavy and still as the figures loomed over the fallen mutant. Would they choose life or death?

[Then, from within the Child's head, Dave yelled, "We can't do this!"]

["Shut up and lemme do this!"]


The Child grabbed his head, wincing and growling. "Stop it! Dammit, stop it!"

"What the?" Xena wondered.

"Dave's trying to reassert control," Cybelle realized in frustration.

Clark called out from the church stairs. "If you kill him, then Professor Dubois will be damned! Don't do it!"

"Nah!" the warrior cracked. "It can't be...Michael...that rat...he would do somethin' like this!"

That distraction gave Ashlocke his chance. He fired one more pulse, scattering his attackers and Lex before taking off for the nearby woods. I'll be back to fight another day.

Cybelle spat, "You can't hide that easily!" She ran into the mists to give chase.

Nick suppressed a smile. While he was proud of his friend's newly discovered assertiveness, the killer was still on the loose and would strike at them again. What a position to be in. Still, he can defend himself and he has all of us. "Are you all right, Lex?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Lex assured them.

"Well, you won't be once I get a hold of you!" Chloe lectured as she rushed over. "What were you thinking, Lex? You could have been killed!"

He smiled warmly as he picked her chin up and looked into her tear filled eyes. "I had to. I'm not going to let Dave damn himself and give our fathers the satisfaction of watching him do it. Besides, I would find a way to come back to you even if Hell stood in my way."

She hugged him tightly, simultaneously feeling proud and scared. He's incredible. I never want to lose him.

"Hey, Sullivan."


"Doesn't the hero get a reward?"

She shook her head and cracked, "Don't push your luck, Luthor."

"Why not? I'm riding a winning streak," he declared and kissed her.


Xena stalked off, angrily sheathing her sword and muttering to herself. We had him! We had that filthy bastard dead to rights and now, he's gone. Surveying the battle scene, she spied the Bard-Queen. "Gabrielle!"

"Xena, thank Eli you're all right!" Gabrielle expressed, rushing over to embrace her friend.

"Not really. Ashlocke got away. David hesitated and the bastard got away," she glowered.

"You think Michael's still angry at him?"

"I'd count on it," the warrior hissed. "This is gonna create quite a problem, ain't it?"

"Not really," Gabrielle disagreed. "His control is improving is all."

Yeah, but at what cost? "I suppose, but that's small consolation to Angela right now."

"I know. Francesca feels the same, but, as I just told her, vengeance isn't the way to go. She still has him and the children. I know Angela's hurting, but so is David. So is everyone else. Have you told her about Perdicas?"

The counselor shrugged. "I figured I'd let you do that."

"Right. I will," the Amazon leader agreed. "Meantime, let's see who needs help around here."

Seeing that Eve was already ministering to the wounded in the distance, Xena followed her friend into the carnage, hoping that the pain would diminish, but knowing that it never would go away entirely.

Chapter 24

[Amherst-Cemetery 24 hours later]

Dave stooped in front of the gravesite, inspecting the fine granite monument in front of him. In a neat row, the names of his mother, Randy, and his maternal grandparents stood out for all to see. I couldn't do it in the end. I couldn't avenge you. But, I swear that this isn't finished. Ashlocke and I will meet again. I will see proper justice done. That way, I'll honor your memory, preserve my own soul, and set an example for the kids.

"Dave?" Nick asked.

"Yeah? What's up?" the professor asked, standing up.

"How are you doing?"

The grieving man shook his head. "Lousy, but I'm keeping my composure. That's good, right?"

"Absolutely," the detective concurred. "And back in Wabash as well."

"I lost it," Dave insisted.

"But you didn't cross the line. Anyone can kill under those circumstances. You didn't and you stopped Xena and Cybelle from doing the same," the former Crusader asserted. "Killing in cold blood isn't justice, Dave. Besides, you took a big step today whether you know it or not."

"Grabbing control from the Child?"

"Exactly," Nick complimented. "You've come so far since we first met. I hope you realize that."

"Some days it feels like I haven't come that far at all, Nick," he doubted.

"It's a day by day proposition. Now, let's see how Angie and Karen are doing."

The two men walked across the little access road to join the aforementioned ladies by the Alvarezs' site.

"How are you both?" Dave asked.

"We're hanging in there," Angie replied, sighing deeply. All day, she had been fighting back the tears. After the completed service, Deirdre had taken her sisters back to Tucson before returning to Althanor. Max and Logan had gone with them.

Karen bowed her head and choked on her sobs.

"Hey. It's okay," he told her.

"I...I know," she sniffed, hugging him. "I just can't understand it."

"We're not supposed to. We just have to honor them and move on. It hurts, but that's all we can do. You know that your folks were like my foster parents," he assured her.

"They would be proud of you, Dave," she declared. "The way you took charge yesterday."

Yeah right, he doubted to himself.

"Listen to her, Buster," Angie added, embracing him from behind.

"We're in this together, right?" he asked them.

"Right!" they chorused, trying to subdue their sorrow.

"In that case, let's make tracks. The others are waiting for us," he urged, walking them back toward the entrance.

Nick followed closely behind, silently observing his friends, and keeping his thoughts to himself.


Standing in front of the cloaked ship, Emma watched for her friends to appear. The late autumn evening air bit her cheeks and made her shiver a bit. Standing in a graveyard, it can't be just the weather. Maybe I should ask Lana to come out here. No, she's been tested enough for now and passed. At that moment, she picked up on the trio's thoughts. Seeing them come over the rise, she waved to them.

"Are you all doing okay?" she wondered. Seeing the somber expressions, she added, "We have coffee onboard. Clark and Lana insisted on getting it for you. Deirdre was more than willing to help."

"That would be great," Angie accepted, leading her husband and their friends into the Double Helix.

A couple of minutes later, they took off heading west.

"Are you all okay?" Lana wondered, pouring coffee for the three newcomers.

"We're getting better," Dave told her. "By the way, did I compliment you on how well you did up there?"

The former cheerleader blushed. "You heard about my dealing with the static? Great."

"Listen to him, Lana," Emma urged, walking back and accepting a cup as well. "Trust me. I know what you're going through."

"You do?"

"I remember being overwhelmed by people's emotions and feelings. I couldn't shut them out and they were driving me crazy. Then, Adam and the others found me and well, you know the rest. Don't sell yourself short, Lana. You dealt with everything fine. In fact, you're way ahead where I was at your stage."


"Really," Dave agreed. "Keep your chin up, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed, furrowing her brow and staring at him.

"What?" he wondered.

Lana sighed. How do I ask him about his feelings when he probably doesn't remember? Might as well get it out. "Both times up in Wabash, I felt extremely powerful psychic tremors centered around you...or your Child personality actually. How do you deal with him?"

Dave looked at the others. "It's a struggle, but we're working out a balance. He's an abused little boy who blindly strikes out at any source of pain. He's also extremely protective of anything or anyone he cares about."

"Such as everyone in our student group?"

"Each and every one of you," Emma agreed. "Lana, I've actually talked with him. He's intimidating but he does care about us all."

"And he will take on any threat such as Ashlocke or Eckhart to protect us," Karen added.

Don't I know it, Angie mused darkly, recalling the fighting within the Pit between the Child and the trolls.

Glancing at the CGI readout image floating in the air, the psionic stated, "We'll be in Smallville in about an hour. Sit back and relax everyone."


[Smallville-Luthor Mansion]

Lex stood up in his chair and smiled enthusiastically. The LuthorCorp Board of Directors had unanimously voted to transfer leadership from his father to him. It took enough campaigning to do it, now I can do some good. Dad, I'm going to make something out of this mess you made. Unplugging the phone, he placed it into a box and set it on the pile to the right of the oak desk. The library had already been completely boxed up and waited for reshipment to Arizona.

Walking into the sitting room, he found Clark and Chloe along with their parents drinking coffee by the fireplace and reclining on the plush sofas amidst the boxes.

"Hi, everyone," he greeted, sitting on the chair across from them. "I just got off the phone with the Board of Directors. They voted unanimously to transfer power from my father to me."

"So, that means?" Jonathan wondered, staring at him.

"It means that there are going to be a few minor changes, Mr. Kent. The Smallville plant workers will be better treated now. I mean to hand the reins of the plant over to somebody I trust. Somebody local whom everyone respects."

"And that would be?" Gabe Sullivan wondered.

Lex smirked. "You, Gabe."

The older heavy-set man stared at him. "You're serious?"

"I am," Lex affirmed, glancing briefly at Chloe before returning his gaze to him. "You're my best supervisor. I can't think of anyone to serve as my regional manager here. Of course, I'll be coming back from time to time to check on things, but I think you'll do fine." Reaching down to his left, he pulled a file folder and handed it to Gabe. "These are some management classes I'd like you to consider...for top executive positions. I took classes like these when I first came here. I think you will do great in them and for me. What do you say?"

Gabe stared at Jonathan and Martha flabbergasted. Rumors had circulated around the town that Lex would shut the plant down and move away for the past two days. Nobody had expected anything like this. "Did you know about this, Kids?"

"Lex kind of hinted about it to us, Dad," his daughter revealed.

"Uh huh," Clark added.

The man smiled. He had spent the past six years toiling under the Luthors. Now, he was being granted an opportunity to work beside them. "I accept, Mr. Luthor."

"Please, Gabe, outside of the plant, it's Lex," his boss advised, shaking his hand. "Thank you for taking me up on this offer. I think we'll be a great team.

Chloe's eyes shone at her love. I can't believe he's doing this for Dad. If this were six months ago, I'd be wondering what he wanted. Now, I just want to thank him too.

"Well, everyone, I have some things to attend to in town. Chloe, call me when you get back to Ithaca, okay?" Gabe requested.

"Absolutely, Dad," she smiled, kissing him on the cheek.

The older man smiled to the others as he left the room, walked out of the mansion, and got into his car. After a minute of consideration, he drove away.

Lex watched the headlights disappear into the night. Make me proud, Gabe. Show me where your daughter's spunk comes from. "Clark, can you get the doors please?"

"Right," the farm boy agreed, shutting the massive doors and securing them.

"Thanks," the host noted. "Before we start, I'd like to say that this room is completely soundproof and I had it swept for bugs before this conversation started."

"Why would you go to all of that trouble, Lex?" Martha asked anxiously. He knows something.

"I wanted to compliment your son on his strength and how he uses his gifts." Seeing the familiar denial starting to come out on the Kents' faces, Lex shook his head. "It's okay. I've seen what he can do. Believe me, he had no choice and, other than myself, nobody else saw him."

"But what about Chloe? Why are you saying this in front of her?" Jonathan demanded.

"Because I know too. I've known since the attack on The Torch," she admitted. "I'm glad that Clark decided to trust me with his secret."

His mother sighed in relief. He doesn't have to hide from his friends anymore. Thank God. "Will you help him to keep the secret?"

"Of course, Mrs. Kent," Lex assured her. "Unlike Phelan or Nelson, I'm not Clark's friend for personal gain. I'm his friend because he's my best friend. My father's going to jail. My first act as CEO is to completely investigate and clean up Genomex."

"And the GSA?" Clark wondered.

"They're history," the entrepreneur asserted, pouring himself a brandy. "Remember when I told you our friendship would be the stuff of legends?"

"I do," Clark recalled.

"Well, this is where they all start," Lex smirked warmly. "We're going to make your professor's dream a reality starting with the dismantling of the GSA and the torture implements. You forget, I've seen what Eckhart did to mutants." He turned and let the others see his eyes spark. "I won't let you, Lana, and Miranda be subjected to that, Clark. You have my word on that."

Jonathan stared at the young man who was standing by the fireplace in amazement. This is the man I thought was going to expose our secret five years ago. This is unbelievable. "How did you come to this, Lex?"

"An inspiration, Mr. Kent. Watching the GSA attack my friends and my father using them to get at me. The travesties in Tucson, here, and in Wabash were horrible acts of domestic terrorism. I won't stand for that kind of activity in my organization. I've made an agreement with Agents Petersen, Singleton, and Farrell to work with them as partners in this regard."

"That's incredible, Lex," Clark said almost as awestruck as his father.

"Not as incredible as you are, Clark. Watching you hold the line at the fire site was something else," Lex remarked, taking another sip. "As I've told you, if you didn't bring Dave back to his senses, there really would have been trouble. You're a hero and, after going back through the records over the years, I can guess where you've been working to help us all over the years. And also, I owe you my life a couple of times over."

He looked at Chloe for a long minute, savoring her beauty before continuing. "Besides, you introduced us, and I've yet to think up a way of getting even for that mishap," he jabbed, allowing the smirk to widen.

"Hey!" She protested, jumping out of the chair and trudging over to him. "Who puts up with whom, Mister Luthor?

"Better duck," Clark advised his parents. "Their brand of verbal judo can be deadly."

Lex grinned and kissed her on the forehead. "We put up with each other, My Dear."

"That's better," she cracked allowing her eyes to sparkle at him.

"Lex, you showed a lot of strength getting in the Child's face last night," Clark reminded him.

Chloe trembled at the memory, taking a seat.

The businessman sighed. "Yeah, that wasn't one of my smarter moves, but it had to be done. There are many kinds of strength, Clark. Did you know, my father lectured me about that topic on the night of the tornado four and a half years ago? He said to me that when Alexander the Great was asked who would succeed him, the general answered that the throne would go to the strongest. Maybe I'm not invulnerable or can fly, but I am as strong as you are in my own way. David Dubois has suffered enough because of his father. That man is stronger than either of us, Clark. You know that? Mr. and Mrs. Kent, you remember?"

Martha's face turned gray and she nodded. "That's the worst day of my life."

Lex undid a couple of button on his shirt and revealed the upper right portion of his back. There, an ugly scar snaked its way between his spine and his shoulder blade. "That's where the chain hit me. My father's foreman was aiming for Dave's head and got me here instead."

Clark and Chloe stared at each other then at him. He really was there.

"You were the red headed boy?" Jonathan asked.

"Remember bringing both of us to the hospital?" Lex inquired. "I do. That's why I've wanted to help you over the years. Anyhow, back to Dave, he's taken more blows over the years and he's still standing. Worse still, he has his...well...problem child. That is something to behold. Clark, you mentioned that you were there in Tucson when the GSA tripped his switch the first time?"

"Yes. He scared me even with my powers and everything. I know differently now. He's a great teacher," Clark concurred.

"He is certainly that," Lex noted. "Chloe and I attended a lecture of his at Cornell. It was quite fascinating. He deserves to pursue that dream of his and I want to help him." Looking at the clock, he noticed it was getting close to their departure time. "I did have one last piece of business. Mr. Kent, I was are the finances going?"

The farmer stiffened. "I appreciate your help, Lex, but that's okay."

The younger man smiled. He's always stubborn. "One thing I need is a freelance consultant from time to time to help me address Smallville's concerns vis-à-vis the plant. What do you say? It would help get your farm back in the black and it's not a loan or charity."

Martha glanced at Jonathan. Please take the offer, Jonathan. Both you and Gabe can do a lot of good for the community.

Jonathan glanced at her and then at Clark. "Okay, Lex, it's a deal." He shook the other's hand.

"Great. I'll be in touch once Gabe finishes his training," the businessman accepted.

At that moment, they all heard what sounded like a stiff breeze outside. Glancing out the window, they saw landing lights descending, but nothing along with them.

A minute later, Lana walked out and waved to the window.

"Where did Lana come from?" Jonathan asked.

"There's a vehicle there," Clark explained. "It's invisible, trust me. Just don't ask me to explain how it works."

"On that note, we need to be going," Lex stated, collecting the cups and setting them on the tray beside him. "My staff will get that. Mr. and Mrs. Kent, thanks for coming and for accepting my offer. I appreciate it."

"Thanks, Lex," Martha replied thankfully.

"I think you're doing wonderful things, Lex. Keep up the good work," Jonathan added, shaking his hand once again.

"You know, it's good to hear you say that. Remember, it's a team effort," the businessman responded, holding Chloe's hand and leading them down the front stairs. A moment later, they stepped out onto the front lawn where Lana, Emma, and Dave were waiting. "Hi, everyone. We're ready."

"David, before you go, there are a couple of things. First, thank you for what you're doing for the kids. Secondly, you have our sympathies for your losses," Martha expressed.

"Absolutely," Jonathan agreed.

"My wife and I appreciate that. Thank you," the professor replied graciously. "It's been a tough two days. Miranda's taking it worst of all having lost her father. I'm grateful that her friends and classmates are supporting her."

"It's our pleasure," Lana told him. "She's been such a good friend to all of us."

"You bet," Chloe agreed. "Well, we do need to get going. It's always good to see you both." She hugged Clark's parents before walking into the Helix.

"Call when you get back, okay?" Jonathan requested.

"Absolutely," Clark agreed, hugging him and his mother both. Then, after exchanging a momentary glance with them, he reached for his girlfriend's hand. "Ready?"

"Yeah. I am," she agreed, grasping his hand with her own. "See you both soon. Give my best to Nell."

"We'll do that!" Martha called to them as they walked back into the ship and the door closed. A minute later, the Double Helix streaked off into the night, heading back for the desert.

The two farmers watched the sky for a while, not believing the sight they had just witnessed. Finally, without a word, they got back into the truck and headed home. As they headed down the road, they remained silent, considering all of the transitions that had just happened and what it would mean to their future.

Conclusion [The next evening]

[New Sanctuary]

Adam scanned the diagnostic scans from Mutant X and was intrigued by them. Over the course of the previous two days, Emma had developed a "mental bazooka," Shalimar had a built-in radar system, and Brennan gained the ability to propel himself through the air via concentrated energy bursts. Their powers are developing farther than anyone ever imagined. This is going to bear watching. I'll need to test Jesse as well.

Just then, Max walked into the room. "Adam, did you want to see me?"

The former geneticist nodded. "Yes, Max, I did. Just a second." Saving the scan results to the database, he requested, "Walk with me?"

"Sure," she concurred.

"How's your adjustment to this time going?" he asked.

She frowned, thinking of how Original Cindy had decided to return to the future. Too bad. I really wish she had stayed. Still, the way things are going with Logan and me, she deserves to be treated better. "I'm doing okay. Why?"

As they passed the fountain area in the complex's center, he stopped, "How is being a loner treating you, Max?"

She sighed. What's his game? He knows I like hanging out with the others. "I'm tired of it, Adam." Pulling out a penny, she plunked it into the water, watching as the copper glistened in the light under the water. Someday, I'd like to be on this team. "I just made a wish."

"I think I know what it was," he smiled warmly, motioning to the balcony.

The transgenic soldier glanced up to find Logan, Mutant X, and some of the students watching them. "What is this?"

"Just a sec, Max," Shalimar advised, descending the stairs. Walking over, she smiled and held out a long, slender box. Popping it open, she revealed a metallic ring.

Max gaped. No! This can't be! "Is this what I think it is?"

"I spoke with Logan this afternoon and well...he told me that you wanted to join the team. After the help you've given us, I think you've earned the chance to be one of us," Adam told her.

Max stared at her companion and saw how his eyes were shining at her. In response, she allowed herself a smile and a tear trickled from her right eye in spite of her efforts to suppress it.

"Yes!" she accepted, holding out her palm.

Shalimar handed her the ring. "Here ya go," she indicated warmly.

Max placed the new item on her finger and watched as a design flashed onto it as it activated.

"The ring is keyed to your personal DNA," Adam explained. "It's also a comlink to the rest of us."

"'s great," Max stammered. "Thanks. I mean it. Thanks." She hugged her fellow feral and shook his hand.

"Welcome to Mutant X," he told her. "Heaven help those who stand in our way."

Glancing back up at the audience, she grinned. You know it.


[Tucson-Sedona Canyon]

Dave sat on a beach towel, staring out into the darkness at the city lights far below. After the events of the previous two days, he needed to get away for some time to reflect on things. Everyone thinks I did so well. They don't know how close I came to losing it completely.

"I know," Grimwilkin stated, appearing behind him.

The professor turned to see the elderly wizard hobble over to him. "What can I do for you, Grimwilkin?"

The newcomer lit his pipe and blew orange smoke rings into the inky darkness. "I just wanted to share the view is all. You come here a lot. Now, I can see why."

"Thank you for your help. Please tell Ferali the same," Dave expressed.

"You're quite welcome. We've all been through a crisis at one time or another. Speaking of which, don't be so hard on yourself, my boy. You've endured a trial of your own and come through quite well...all things considered," the wizard remarked. "Give yourself a break. There aren't many of the race of men who could best Lousain once never mind three times. Your friends will help you if you trust them."

"I do!" Dave protested, shooting him a look. "Who do you think I've been leaning on through all of this mess?"

"Yes. You did open yourself up more than you have in the past. Keep it up. We care about you. Speaking of caring, I believe your wife needs you," the wizard pointed out. "Until we meet again, my friend." With that, he disappeared into the darkness.

Thanks for the reminder, Grimwilkin, Dave thought as he folded up his blanket and headed back for the Subaru.


Everyone had been by the apartment to express their condolences to Angie over her parents and in-laws. After Dave had left around 7 PM for some solitary time, she had put on some soft music and played with the twins for a while.

Miranda sat in the corner, brooding over something.

"What's wrong? Are you all right?" the doctor asked, although she already knew the answer.

"No. I still miss my father and well...I'm sorry I hurt Uncle Dave."

Angie rubbed her niece's shoulder. "You did no such thing, Miri. He was already losing it and well...seeing the house burn made his mind flash back. You can't carry that guilt around with you."

"I know, but I can't deal with the thought of seeing him in any more pain," Miranda insisted.

"Neither can I," Angie agreed, smiling. "But your uncle's a lot tougher than people give him credit for."

"I'd like to think so," Dave concurred, walking through the door. "Grimwilkin just reminded me of that. Of course, we know who the real backbone of this family is. Sorry I'm late. I had a stop to make." He held up a dozen red roses.

Oh wow. She fell back into her chair. With everything else, he remembered to bring me flowers. Taking a deep breath, she stated, "We're a team, Buster. How many times do I have to tell you that?"

"Have I told you how I feel about you lately, Partner?" he slurred, kissing her.

"Dave, umm, Miri's still here," she advised hesitantly.

"So she is," he noted. "I think she's old enough to deal with seeing us kiss, Angie."

"Pardon me, but it's nice to watch you two do it," their niece agreed. "It makes things feel special."

"See? I told you," he said to his wife, handing her the roses. "Never forget that I love you both, ladies."

Miranda smiled at Angie and then at him. "We know that. Thank you for not turning me away after Daddy died."

He walked over and hugged her. "Never. We've lost enough and having you back with us is a great blessing, Miri. Never forget that." He kissed the top of her head.

She looked at her aunt and uncle one more time and thought, Maybe Ashlocke is still loose out there and will come looking for trouble eventually. But they're right. We have to live one day at a time and treasure every moment with our loved ones no matter what.


Nick stopped the Caddy in front of the Arizona Inn. He knew there would be hysterics over Chloe's reappearance especially given her miraculous healing. They have no idea of what really happened and I would like to keep it that way. He saw her walk toward the car and lean through the open window.

"Hi, Detective," she greeted cheerfully. "Mind if I get in?"

"Not at all," he agreed, opening the door for her. "How are you doing tonight?"

"I'm okay," she indicated, getting into her seat. "I'm just glad that my friends are all right. I hope that your captain isn't going to be too hard on Lex and the others."

"I think seeing you will take care of a lot of problems. He spoke to your father earlier today and has dropped the APB on you. Umm, Chloe, I owe you an apology," he replied.

"For doing your whammy thing? I had to admit that I was really mad at you about that at first. Then, I realized that you did me a favor," she replied frankly.

"How so?" he inquired although he suspected what her answer was going to be.

"You gave me time to get used to the whole idea of new mutants, my friends' special gifts, and to accept that folks such as yourself aren't so scary. Just do me a favor. Next time, just ask me to keep a secret? I know I have a rep for being impulsive, but I do know when to keep quiet," she continued. "Deal?"

He smiled warmly. "It's a deal and thank you, Chloe, for being so understanding."

"Just keep being a good friend, okay?"

"Yeah," he agreed, driving the Caddy into the night. As they drove, he turned on the radio. "Do you mind if I listen to some talk radio?"

"No. That's okay. I'm a reporter, remember?"

Then, a voice came over the speaker. "Hi, everyone. This is Tony Ralston at KRAN. Tonight, one of our own joins us on location from Toronto. Here's the Nightcrawler."

"Good evening, gentle listeners. This is the Nightcrawler coming to you from the frozen north so to speak. My apologies for not being there with you. Just as we all are consigned to walk the night for a time, so too am I on a journey of sorts..."

"Is that who I think it is?" she blurted out.

"Yes. That's LaCroix. Now listen," he advised.

"....It's story time once again, Boys and Girls. You know of whom I speak? The taciturn child threw a tantrum last night, but this one was for good reason. Last night, a bully showed up with a street gang. When the child asked what was going on, the bully threw a punch, stunning the former, but he didn't stay down. Last night, his friends supported him and together, they taught the bully a stern lesson. So, I ask you gentle listeners, are you a bully? If so, you better stop.

And, as for the bully in question, here is a word of warning from experience. Do not venture into the Child's domain again. For what you have taken from him and his friends, he will revisit upon you in kind. Even I wouldn't face such a child in these conditions. That is your moral for tonight...."

"Wow!" Chloe exclaimed. "If I didn't know better, that was an account of last night."

"It was and a challenge to Ashlocke at the same time. Chloe, you and the others should be careful not to get in the crossfire if something happens."

"Don't worry about me. I'm very observant," she reassured him as they pulled up to the Precinct.

You'd best be, he noted.



Divia waited outside of the listening booth for her father/son to finish his show. He's feeling particularly brazen. How wonderful.

He opened the door. "Divia, come in. The microphone is muted."

"Thank you," she accepted and entered. "This is such a small box, Lucius!"

"Indeed, but it serves my purposes. Do you think that was enough of a barb in the monstrosity's side?"

"I think so," the female vampire agreed. "You were always so simple yet elegant with your language, Lucius."

"I'm a soldier." He shrugged. "I have my show to finish. Then, we can talk. Agreed?"

The blonde companion nodded before turning and disappearing into the night.

Ashlocke had best stay away if he's smart. We are all unified against him, and together, we shall bring him down.

THE END (for now)

(**Well, this ain't over yet! In the next installment, "The Zero Factor", Ashlocke proves that he can't take a hint when he and the Strand invade Tucson. To make matters worse, he deliberately provokes the Child. (uh oh...) You'd best stay tuned.... Also, to see back stories from the Dubois Chronicles, please go to my site at . If you want to keep up on what's going on, check out my "DuboisChronicleUpdates" group on Yahoo Groups. Thanks again for your interest!**)

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