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It was a quiet Memorial Day weekend around Freedom City, one quiet enough that many of Freedom City's superheroes (including its teenage contingent) went out of town to visit their families over the weekend, or go elsewhere with their families to enjoy the long weekend. Claremont Academy was hosting a barbecue for the kids who had no place to go, but there were plenty of other things to do in and around campus. Until, that is, the emergency alert went off: it rang first for the members of Young Freedom, jangling through the communicators they all carried, but then it began beeping frantically all across campus. This was a school emergency, requiring the attention of many of the teenage heroes at Claremont who weren't affiliated with Young Freedom.

The Freedom Leaguer Siren had been visiting campus for the holiday, perhaps to visit her old friend Duncan Summers, and she quickly took charge of the emergency. "Everyone who can help, follow me! If you can't get yourself quickly, find a teleporter, flier, or speedster, and follow the distress call." She took out her League transponder and fiddled with it quickly, her scientist's fingers moving fast over the hand-sized piece of high technology. "If you have to get there on your own, use League coordinates 08401-08406. That'll put you in Ashton, right at...oh, by the loa, it's Rick Lucas' house." Siren had been on the old Freedom League; the ageless beauty had been there since the 1960s. She knew Rick Lucas, the former mascot-cum-junior member of the Silver Age League, and of course his son, Claremont student Mark Lucas, very well indeed. "Quickly now!"

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Memorial Day weekend seemed like the perfect time for some auto maintenance, right up until everything started going wrong. Fresh from a training session and with their costumes still on, Erin and Trevor were just outside the school garage when Erin's Young Freedom Beacon began to chime. Erin blinked in confusion as the Siren's voice came over the speaker.

"Mark's house?" she said aloud, shaking her head. "What could be going wrong there? Nothing ever goes wrong there." Still, she wasn't about to ignore the call. "I can get us there by teleporting through the Young Freedom base," she told Trevor. "Want a ride?" Barely waiting for his nod, she took his hand and activated her beacon, sending them zipping to the base and then on to the house, a simple matter of selecting an already-known destination.

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"So... Marko, can I call you Marko?" began Chris, aware of Liz's father standing behind his chair.

"No."

"Ok, then, Mr Lawlett, when can I not have to sit on the opposite side of the kitchen table?" Chris went to turn in his seat and grin, but the Mystic Marko walked around him to lean on the table in front of him, obscuring Chris's view of his daughter.

"Dad-" said Liz, but got cut off by Marko putting a hand up.

"I don't like you Kenz-" "Dad, but I do, and isn't tha-" "No! The kid's an irresponsib-" "Wait, what? I'm very respons-" "He has a point." "Liz, than... wait, you're agreeing!?"

The tension was cut by Chris's YF beeper going off. "I've got to answer this," he said, pulling his commlink out of his pocket and holding it to his ear. "Ok, I'd love to continue this little chat, but something serious has happened." He pressed a button on his belt, kissed Liz on the cheek and dived out the window just as the Pitchoo passed.

"Computer, set co-ordinates to Mark's house!"

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James was feeling a little run down and tired. It seemed a like a perpetual state of being for him lately. He couldn't even remember the last party he'd been to or anything. He barely saw Erin lately he was out so much. He hadn't hung out with anyone in YF in forever either. He'd skipped so many classes it was ridiculous. James wasn one to complain, but he really couldn't wait for Taylor to get settled and pick up some of the load as 'dimensional guardian' so he could get back to all those things again. Ok, well maybe not school stuff, but the others he missed.

So he'd been looking forward to this little barbeque, though he was certain some dimensional threat would call him away. Again. There was an emergency of course, just not one of his usual ones. He'd barely arrived and set foot on the campus when the comm started buzzing. "Gotta be kidding me. 'Least I wasn't in the shower this time," he grumbled but answered regardless. He blinked as he noted where the problem was and didn't even pause before teleporting directly to Mark's house; Mark was a friend and James wasted no time before diving head first into this problem!

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Refastening the asymmetrical buckles on his black jacket he'd undone after finishing their training session, Trevor fell in beside Erin, staying a step back to let her take the lead as they made the pair of jumps in rapid sequence. The black clad youth wasn't entire clear on how Mark Lucas' powers worked, but he'd gotten the impression that they went well beyond the occasional stroke of good luck. The general belief seemed to be that bad things simply didn't happen to Mark, period. While that would certainly go a long way to explaining his nigh preternatural cheer and enthusiasm, it raised some serious questions about the situation they were hurtling toward.

Normally that would have bothered him, but Trevor knew that even thirty years ago, his grandfather wouldn't have hesitated to put on his old costume and speed to the Lucas family's aid. Fortunately, there was a new Midnight to answer the call.

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Memorial Day was always a big get together for the Martel family. Even though they aren't an American family, they had to abide by American holidays. Nicholas used this time to show off his masterful barbecuing skills. Eve kept the drinks full. Faith acted as coat taker and door greeter.

Then the distress call came. Faith looked to Eve. Eve looked to Faith. They both nodded wordlessly. Faith excused herself from the family gathering and motioned for Sage to come hither. Taking her cousin's hand they disappeared in a bloop of psionic energy.

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All of the new arrivals at the Lucas house were familiar with where Mark lived, so it was an easy matter to simply disappear from sight at school and reappear on the sidewalk in front of the two-story suburban house house. The usually immaculately green Lucas lawn was covered in broken debris instantly recognizable as the shattered remains of Omegadrones, with one particular armored figure visible in particular: Shadivan Steelgrave, the right hand of Omega, lay in a giant, broken suit of armor just before Mark. Mark was standing on the lawn, right over the fallen villain, looking slightly shell-shocked, a big crater in the lawn behind him. Just behind him stood his folks, his mother and father both visibly armed with surplus high-tech weapons Rick Lucas had acquired over his years with the Freedom League, a look of profound relief mixed with shock on their faces. At the sight of his friends, he turned and waved, a big smile on his face.

"Hey guys! Sorry for all the alarms! You'll never believe what just-"

KABLAM!

At that instant, Steelgrave's armor exploded in a sudden starburst of black, twisted Terminus energy. The blast shattered the windows in the Lucas house, knocked Mark's parents staggering, and set the lawn on fire. Standing between the booby-trapped armor and his friends, Mark's fragile, unprotected body absorbed the blast for them, leaving them entirely unhurt despite their proximity. As for Mark? Slowly he looked down, great surprise on his face, at the foot-long sliver of Terminus metal that had impaled him through the back and out through the center of the chest, covered in his lifesblood, before going limp and collapsing on the lawn.

His mother's voice rent the air in a horrified scream of pure agony. "MARK!"

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Erin covered the ground between herself and Mark in a single leap, catching him before he'd entirely hit the ground. She pressed her fingers to his neck, even though it was all too obvious to someone who'd seen enough death that it was a futile action. "James!" she called. "Get him to the hospital, now!" They had to do something. She was far too jaded to doubt that everything could be over just that quickly for someone, but this was Mark they were talking about. There had to be a stroke of luck still waiting to happen.

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Midnight reflexively ran forward a pair of long strides as Erin leaped to Mark's fallen form before stopping awkwardly in his tracks, struck by the sudden overwhelming feeling that he was intruding. The black clad teen' had enough first aid training to realize that there wasn't anything any of them could do in time to make a difference. They'd been a second too slow. The crashing waves of utter failure began to erode Trevor's stoic numbness. After everything the Lucases have survived... this can't...

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Everything went silent and grainy as Faith saw her boyfriend impaled. This couldn't be happening. She rushed towards Mark's limp body with tears streaming away from her eyes. "Get away from him!" she yelled with a sobbing voice, "Get away from him! I can fix him!" She knelt down over his body grabbing the piece of metal and pulling it out. She placed her hand over the hole that was there. She couldn't feel anything. He wasn't alive. She refused to accept this and sent a wash of energy over him.

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Erin reached out to try and prevent Faith from pulling out the shard of metal, but she hadn't been expecting it and wasn't quite fast enough. Still holding Mark's head in her lap, Erin reached out and braceleted Faith's bloody wrists with her own hands. "Faith, stop! Stop! You can't do anything for him right now, he needs to get to the hospital." Mark's body was bathed in the glowing light of Faith's powers, but there was no answering leap of pulse or intake of breath, just more bleeding now that the shard of metal was out.

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Faith could feel the after-effects of the Terminus shard in Mark's body, the cold, absolute touch of pure entropy and death seeping through him. Mark's parents were there in a second, Mark's mother screaming and near tears, his father absolutely white-faced. Rick pressed his hands to the wound, stopping up the bleeding from the front, while he grabbed Erin's hands and through sheer force of will the old man pinned the super-strong teen's hands to the wound in Mark's back. But there was no real bleeding to stop, just a faint trickle, and Erin and Faith saw the ashen grief fall over the old man's face as he held his son's body in his arms. But what could be said, what could be done, but keep trying? "It'll be okay, son," Rick was promising, over and over again, "it'll be okay..."

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The violence of the explosion paralyzed Eve with shock, time seeemed to slow to a crawl with her senses screaming to her about the danger, Eve reached out with her mind to Mark to issue a warning but even as she did so she knew it was futile. Eve could only look on with horror as reality stuttered along like a slideshow as the piece of shrapnel punched into Mark, punctuated by a spray of crimson.

For what seemed like an eternity Eve watched helpless, before the plantive cries of the youths mother and his friends brought Eve's altered perception crashing back.

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James stared long and hard at the body of his friend. Dead. He looked on, contemplating something that his deceased friend would protest with every fiber of his being. He had it in him to make a deal; he'd done it before. It certainly wasn't something he advertised. As far as he knew, only Erin knew about it. He could tell Mark's soul was gone, already moving on. But James' soul, as battered and poor as it was, wasn't...

He looked over at Erin, thinking back. He was willing to die for his friends. Was this any different? Hell, he could even say he was going home...just for a lot longer than he had wanted... He knelt a little ways away, while Faith wept and the family looked on horrified. He didn't waste any more time, and began to concentrate. He had a deal to make.

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Erin looked over at James, wondering why he wasn't starting the teleport, and found him looking like he was a million miles away. From the look on his face, there was only one place he was thinking about. After this long, she had some idea of the way his mind worked, and what he might be considering. Keeping one hand pressed over the impromptu dressing, more for Rick's sake than for Mark's, she picked up a clod of dirt and threw it at James' head. "Don't even think about it," she told him. "Get us to the hospital!"

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The dirt hit James, disrupting his focus. He whispered harshly, using words he seldom did. "Damn it Erin! He's dead. His soul is moving on! What do you expect me to do? Nothing? I could bring him back. It's a fair trade. Worth it." He had little doubt in his mind that Mark Lucas was a nobler and better man than himself. Still, he gestured, ripping a fiery hole in the air to teleport his fallen friend away. If nothing else, James would do it once he got there and Erin wasn't there to distract him.

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The Pitchoo slid down onto the ruined lawn, Geckoman leaping out before it could stop. He came to a halt beside Mark's body. "Oh no. Oh, God no." Can't break down... keep going.

He pivoted on his heel, face an expressionless mask. Keep going, do the job, pretend you never met him. "Hurry the Hell up with that portal, if you're getting him to hospital, do it now. Someone secure the perimeter, we don't want anyone else hurt. Do it!"

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After a quick redirection from McNider, the heroes and their grim cargo wound up at the special clinic adjacent to Freedom Hall, the doctors there the best in the world and trained to deal with super-injuries. The ER is a bright, loud place, like they all are, and within seconds Mark's body has been pulled away, his parents close behind. Peering through the half-glassed doors, the Young Freedom members can just make out the frantic activity inside, and the raised, furious voice of Rick Lucas over everything. "No! Damn you, no! This will not happen!"

A few seconds later, he and Mark's ashen, shocky mother are outside the room, an increasingly frantic Rick on the phone. Within minutes, a cavalcade of middle-aged and elderly heroes are arriving; some recognizable as retired members of the former Freedom League, others new faces to the Young Freedomites. Rick Lucas is calling in every favor earning over a lifetime fighting alongside the most powerful heroes in the world. But none stay long, the look they give Mark's parents enough to convey everything.

Even some of the present Freedom League had arrived now; Captain Thunder and Lady Liberty, the latter immediately going in to try and help Mark. Siren, an old friend of the family, did her best to comfort Martha, but Rick didn't so much stop pacing, or talking, since they were escorted out of the room. "I will not allow this," he muttered, over and over again, "I will not allow this. Not my son too. They can't take my son from me." His fury and grief are palpable, the look in his eyes of a man utterly betrayed by the universe.

But none of it seemed to matter when a grief-stricken Lady Liberty stepped out of the room, her hands covered in blood. "Rick, Martha...I'm so sorry." As Martha turned white and burst into tears all over again, Rick's face turned red and he staggered, as if the old man was about to have a heart attack...or as if his heart had been torn from his chest.

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Woah, he can't go too. No. Red-eyed, Chris quickly dashed to steady Rick Lucas. Woah. He doesn't smell right... no, he doesn't smell. He's just a non-entity when it comes to my nose! "Sir, are you OK? Do you need a doctor?"

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Upon arriving at the hospital, Trevor had instinctively found the darkest corner of the waiting room and quickly converted his uniform into its inconspicuous civilian configuration, beaten black fedora held dejectedly in his hand. He just couldn't face the growing number of heroes and living legends as the new Midnight, not now, not like this. The dark-haired teen was consumed by the feeling that it shouldn't have been Mark Lucas' body in the operating room. Anyone else, maybe; Trevor was a pragmatic soul. But not Mark. Some people were just meant to be untouchable.

In truth, he simply wanted to hide, his fingers itching to release a cloud of midnight mist around him. Instead, he moved to stand shortly away from the other Claremont students, trying not to intrude on the grief of those who had known Mark far better than he while still lending support with his presence. The awkward compromise twisted sourly in his stomach.

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Erin stood quietly and watched the parade of heroes in and out of the room, her face white and impassive as she tried to make sense of any of this. Mark couldn't die, how could Mark die? Nothing bad ever happened to him, surely no stroke of bad luck like what had taken place a few minutes ago. Fifteen feet away and he'd have been injured but survived. That was what his power did, made sure he was those fifteen feet away. Omega was responsible for this, somehow. He'd managed to turn off Mark's powers just long enough, or something like that, something insidious enough to kill a boy whose power was happy-ever-afters.

The one thing she could and did do was keep an eye on James and make sure he didn't follow through on whatever harebrained scheme of self-sacrifice he was cooking up. She stuck close to him as they waited, taking his hand and squeezing his fingers as much to comfort herself as him. Right up until the moment Lady Liberty came out, she could tell herself that there was still a chance, that something would happen to change fate, but she was wrong. Closing her eyes, Erin rubbed her face, unable to look at the grief of Mark's parents as they heard the news.

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James was conflicted. Frustrated. He had something he could do. He knew it'd work. But there was no way Erin was going to let him do obviously. And, when it boiled down to it, he couldn't avoid her long enough to even try. Certainly not with her holding his hand. Didn't stop him from trying to find a way though, however ineffectual it was.

Still, he squeezed her hand back, enjoying the connection and her presence. Drawing on her for comfort and doing the same for her in return. He slipped his other arm around her for a brief squeeze and a hug. He could talk his way out of anything. No question. But at the moment, he couldn't think of a thing to say. He wasn't close with his own family, either side. Despised would be a better description. But Mark had been...like a brother. He was the first person James had met when he walked onto campus. James sighed, remembering the good times. Gone forever now.

Suddenly his head snapped up and around, search for the source of the feeling. "Oh hell," he said. "Mark's father just popped. He's accessing his powers that have been locked away for who knows how long..." He knew that Erin would remember Mark's heritage. Which meant his father had those powers as well...

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Faith was horrified. She couldn't believe it. She couldn't move. Every last bit of air was knocked out of her. She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted to do something, but all she could do is stand in horror. The man she loved was dead. And then something hit her. She had to be stronger than this. She could not wallow in pity. Mark depended on her and she depended on him. She walked over to Mark's mother, All she saw was her. There could have been ten thousand people around her, but she needed her support. She was going to be the wall for her to lean on. She looked at her and hugged her. There were no words that needed to be said. Comfort for them both.

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Erin looked up at James when he spoke, confused at first by the words. "But I thought he didn't have any...oh. You mean like if Mark has, had one quarter powers, his dad would have twice as much..." Her eyes widened in consternation. "What do we do? Can you get a portal open before something really weird happens?" When she concentrated, Erin realized that Rick didn't seem quite as present as he ought to. She could see him, but to her hearing he was muffled, as though he were much further away than he ought to be.

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Rick staggered and nearly fell, but with help from Chris he was up again quickly, a flash of his old strength and charisma at this awful moment. Weeping, wordless, Martha buried her face in Faith's shoulder and cried. More people had arrived by now to witness this horrible moment; some of the Next-Gen and the modern Freedom League, grief on their faces at the loss to the legendary Lucas family, and the loss of a boy who'd been a friend to most of them. Captain Thunder, his face as griefstricken as anyone there, placed his hand on Rick's shoulder. "Rick, I'm so sorry. Mark was-"

The middle-aged ex-mascot whirled on the chairman of the Freedom League. "You _dare_ say my son's name!?" Red-faced with fury, he jabbed his finger into the man's bulletproof chest. "Mark Leeds is dead. _My son is dead!_ And you...you WHORE out the Freedom League to every marketer and government prostitute in the world while that entitled little brat of yours runs around like he's a little prince because his daddy runs the Freedom League!" Bolt blinked at that, but he was mature enough not to react to an insult from an adult losing his grip.

On her feet, Cassandra Vale tried to take her old friend's arm. "Rick, please, you-"

"NO!" Rick pulled his arm out of Siren's grip, despite her superhuman strength, his old man's voice cracking with grief."You too, _Cassie!_ Look at you, traipsing around in your goddamned underpants with my son's dead body in the next room! Is that what the avatar of a _god_ does!? Dress like a hooker!?" Red-faced now, almost hysterical, he pointed at Captain Thunder and said, "This world is a nightmare of murdered children and it's YOUR FAULT! You and the rest of that miserable, pathetic excuse for a League, sitting in the chairs of men and women a thousand times your better! Goddamn you to Hell, Ray Gardner! I wish YOU had died in that damn invasion!"

And then a remarkable thing happened. With the sound of a popping soap bubble, Captain Thunder vanished into thin air. "Daaad!?" Bolt turned white and charged Rick reflexively, but vanished just as fast in a crackle of black Kirby dots, his vacant uniform tumbling to the ground empty. And the room fell dead silent, as Rick, looking as shocked as anyone, stared down at his hands, now crackling with obscenely powerful magical energies that tugged at the edges of reality itself.

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