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June 7, 2011

A couple of days after the Claremont kids finally had their graduation, the general word went out in the superheroic community that Richard Milhouse Lucas, the long-time sidekick to the Freedom League back in the 1960s and 1970s, had perished in the line of duty. Rick had been a difficult man for many of his old friends to get along with in the last few years as his bitterness towards the current generation of superheroes grew, but he'd stayed in touch with everyone and always been there when they needed help. He'd regularly played host to various parties and fundraisers for that generation of heroes as they got older, using the celebrity he'd gained from his time with the League and his best-selling series of 'men's super-adventure novels' to help his old friends who'd never gotten a dime from their work stay financially comfortable even in retirement. He'd gone into seclusion some months earlier, and hadn't been seen much sense. Only a select few heroes personally associated with the Freedom League and the upper tier at Claremont knew about Rick's descent into madness after his son's short-lived death; what he'd done to rewrite the world and how he'd nearly abandoned it in disgust before giving his life to keep Omega from attacking it again. All superheroes invited to the service were invited to come in full costume, while in lieu of flowers Rick's testament asked that they donate to his son's alma mater: Claremont Academy.

And now that a long life had come to an end, if too early for those who'd loved him, it was a time for the memorial service Rick had requested: a memorial service was all they could have, since his body was now somewhere beneath what had once been another version of Freedom City cast deep into the Zero Zone. At the Lucas house, Mark was studying himself in his bedroom mirror as he adjusted his suit and tie, trying to keep his emotions in check. Downstairs, his mom was entertaining Duncan Summers and his daughter Jasmine, the headmaster and his daughter being the first to show up for the service despite it being some time away. For Mark's part, after some consideration, he'd sent invitations out to all his schoolfriends, even those who he knew had had little use for his father while he was alive. If they didn't show, that was fine: he trusted them enough to know they wouldn't disrupt what the moment was about. It was about family...and when he thought about Young Freedom, he decided with a nod to his reflection, that meant they belonged there too.

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The service wasn't due to begin for a little while yet, but Trevor and Erin were exactly on time as the subdued and classic lines of the Night Cruiser rolled silently through the streets of Ashton. Mark hadn't been doing terribly well this past week, quiet and sad even in the delayed celebration of their graduation the day before. He needed his friends, and Trevor and Erin were probably his closest friends in the world right now. They'd been to several kinds of hell and back together, and that had to mean something. This, though, was a different sort of situation.

As Trevor parked the car in the driveway, Erin stepped out and looked up at the house. As the invite had requested, she was in uniform, still the Claremont blue and gold, accented today with a black mourning armband. It still felt a little strange not to be wearing her headband, but the new cut she'd gotten for graduation stopped just past her ears and didn't need to be held back. She thought it made her look more grown-up, even if it had been done mostly from necessity. Her hair didn't grow back nearly as fast as her skin did.

Taking a deep breath, she looked back to Trevor before mounting the porch steps. "Ready?" she asked.

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Two figures touched down on the Lucas' lawn. One was Eve in her guise as Sage wearing her standard uniform; a bare shouldered form-fitting black bodysuit with panels of blue on the side, cinched by a gold belt. Around her arm she wore a black armband and her chin length white hair was secured by a black headband. Next to her was a tall, broad shouldered figure in a silver and cerulean battlesuit.

"Good, we made it in time," the diminutive telepath murmured, approaching the Lucas residence.

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The black armband overtop the already somber uniform of Midnight didn't have quite the striking affect it did on the brighter garb of his teammates, but Trevor had opted for a full length coat in the style of his grandfather despite the summer heat. Travis himself hadn't been up to venturing out in the sweltering heat wave, especially after exerting himself during the events surrounding the first attempt at the younger Hunter's graduation ceremony. Trying not to dwell too much on the elderly man's somewhat fragile health, Trevor murmured an affirmative to Erin and stepped up beside her on the steps, inclining his head slightly as Eve arrived with company in tow.

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Corbin flew through the air, doing his best to keep his aura of flames to a minimum. Somehow, it seemed too cheery for such a solemn day. He descends from the sky, a decidedly more serious figure than usual. His overall costume is a slightly dimmer shade of blue; all the areas that were maroon are currently black. His helmet is gone, though his mask has expanded somewhat to cover more of his face. As well, instead of his normal slightly ragged cape, he has a sleeveless, open-front robe that goes down to just beyond his knees; said robe includes a hood that he has drawn over his hair, though it's pulled back enough that his face isn't shrouded in shadows. To finish it off, he wears a black armband, in keeping with the pattern his fellows have set. When he lands and speaks up, his voice is subdued, though it seems to be a gesture of respect for the day.

"Hey guys."

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Martha Lucas answered the door, wearing a black dress appropriate for the occasion, and with a tight little host's smile invited them all inside. This was a stressful occasion for everyone; no less for the Widow Lucas despite whatever personal problems she'd had before that day. Inside the house, Mark's friends found things looking quiet and serene. This was obviously a house in mourning: still, it was cheerier than the place it had been when all the adults in the family were gone. The pictures of Rick that had once been on most of the walls were gone; they were over at the Christian church down the street waiting for everyone to get together.

"Hey guys," said Mark, coming down and exchanging the mix of embraces and handshakes his sometimes-reserved friends preferred. "Glad you could make it." He was looking uncommonly serious in a black suit and tie, but of course that fit the occasion too. From their couch, the Summers, father and daughter, gave a cordial "Hmm" as the teens entered. "You're looking good. We're just about ready to get out."

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Erin put a hand on Mark's arm and looked him over carefully, deciding that he was probably doing about as well as could be expected at the moment. She wished she had something to say, some advice or wisdom she could share, but there was nothing that could make a day like this easier. Erin knew too well what it was like to lose a father with no body to mourn and little closure afterwards, and there was just nothing that helped. Hopefully time would. "Is there anything we can do?" she asked him quietly. "We'll help with whatever you need."

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When Corbin stepped in the house and saw Mark's mood, he stepped over to his friend, leaned forward a bit, and gave him a brotherly hug that probably made one or two of his bones creak. He let up after a second, taking a step back and giving his friend a serious look.

"Like I said, you need anything, you tell me. Us. We're here to help."

He looked towards Martha, giving her a respectful nod (he didn't feel it appropriate to embrace her).

"That goes for you too, ma'am. My parents agree with me, too. I know it's not much, but...Well, it's all I can do."

He gave the headmaster and his daughter a respectful nod as well. He wasn't quite sure what to say to them, either.

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"Just being here helps," replied Mark to Erin's question, hugging Corbin back with all his strength. "When we're there, if you could...keep an eye on everything, make sure it doesn't get disrupted, that would be great." Despite his happy-go-lucky nature most of the time, Mark had actually been to plenty of funerals in his time: with his grandfather's generation dying off and his father's getting older, more than a few of his close family friends had passed away in his lifetime. All that aside, though, he'd never really anticipated anything like this. When his uncle George came by to pick up his mom and take her over for the last preparations at the church, the Summers opted to go with them for support. He hadn't really thought about how close his father and Duncan Summers must have been, but the old man who'd been so scary through his high school career had been there for them every step of the way.

That left him to be the driver for their trip over the Ashton Christian Church, the generally non-denominational Protestant church his parents had attended every Easter and Christmas as long as they'd lived in Ashton. He was surprisingly silent on the drive over, but more because he was collecting his thoughts. "My mom and I got everything," he confessed to no one in particular as they parked in the back, the outside a slap of moist heat as they got out beneath the glaring Freedom City sun. The building itself was the sort of bland warehouse-style church common to new suburbs like Ashton. "She has enough to live in the house for the rest of her life, even if she doesn't go back to work. I got all the League stuff. He had it for thirty years, and they didn't bother to check afterwards...he left a test question with our lawyer in case a robot or evil clone comes back to take his place."

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Trevor conveyed his grandfather's respects to Martha Lucas before getting into the vehicle with everyone else. He wasn't used to being a passenger, but he fully appreciated how much it sometimes helped to do something as straightforward as driving when one's mind was weighed down. Mark was handling the entire affair with a collected calm which, after a moment's reflection, his laconic friend did not really find surprising. The probability manipulator had grown considerably in the time Trevor had known him, his burdens sitting more steadily on his shoulders.

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Erin was more than happy to keep an eye on things for Mark, it was a lot better having something to do than to just be sitting in a church pew and alternately thinking about death and how long it had been since she'd gone to church. As soon as they arrived she did a quick tour through the building, checking for any signs of trouble and to get an idea of the layout and exits. By the time she finished with that, people were starting to arrive for the memorial service itself. She stationed herself in the lobby and kept a special eye out for any supervillains, but also for the League contingent. She'd seen how Captain Thunder had upset Mark the week before, and there wasn't going to be any of that today. She had no doubt that she and her friends could handle anyone who thought about forgetting their manners today. She folded her arms across her chest in an unconscious gesture that made her look a bit like the funeral bouncer.

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Corbin nodded gently at Mark's request. So far as he was concerned, anyone wanting to cause trouble would never make it past the lobby. At Mark's declaration about how his father had taken care of everything for Mark and Martha, he gave his friend a soft smile from where he was wedged into the back seat.

"That's good to hear, Mark. Still, my offer stands beyond just today."

He rode the rest of the way in silence, watching the suburbs pass by. When they got to the church, he artfully extricated himself from the car before looking around at the parking lot. He followed the others in, but lingered in the lobby, looking around. He spotted Erin setting up her post to one side; he quickly walked over and leaned down to whisper to her.

"I'll take a quick look at the sanctuary, then come out here to "help greet". That lets you keep an eye on anyone I might miss, while still sending a message that this isn't a place for shenanigans. Sound good?"

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Erin gave Corbin a quick smile for his thought, rising to her tiptoes so she could murmur back. "That's a good idea, but I think it'll be more effective if you stay in the sanctuary. I want someone keeping an eye on Mark and his mom so nobody messes with them. You've got good people skills, you can handle that." It was true, but putting Corbin in the sanctuary was also better PR. For all he was harmless as a puppy most of the time, his huge size and imposing uniform might have intimidated some of the more mundane visitors to the service. Even in her uniform, Wander tended to blend with the crowd.

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The church was quiet and still at first when everyone arrived, as befit the somber occasion. There was no coffin or urn since there was no body to bury, Rick Lucas being somewhere underneath the flooded landslide that had once been the Freedom City of Earth-ZO1. There were just pictures on the walls and inside the sanctuary, chronicling the long and busy life of Rick Lucas: there he was with his famous father and the Liberty League as a boy, there he was a young man with the new Freedom League looking like James Dean in a leather jacket surrounded by costumed heroes. It seemed as though Rick really had teamed up with everyone over the years; there was the Centurion and Wail, the first Lady Liberty and Siren, all the heroes of the past who'd once stood alongside the man now dead.

With Erin in the lobby and Corbin's reassuring presence in the sanctuary, with Trevor doing his usual thing where he seemed just about everywhere, Mark felt reassured: he felt more reassured as the crowd outside began to grow. After his father's disgrace and his argument with Captain Thunder, he'd seriously feared no heroes would be showing up. But gradually more and more did come, a crowd of family friends and well-wishers from across Freedom City and beyond: his friends had met people like the first White Lion already, but there were faces some of them had only seen in pages of history books crowding in. And not just heroes too, almost all of whom had come in costume, but family too: Rick's cousins and Martha's brothers and sisters, the small church getting more and more filled as more and more people arrived. Mark and Martha didn't have much time to talk, they were too busy greeting and shaking hands, but with the crowd to watch there was plenty for the young heroes to do.

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The older heroes in the room, including Leaguers Daedalus and Siren, were busy chatting with other and the Lucases. The ones that weren't doing that were busy circulating in the sanctuary, some studying the many pictures on the wall. Near the back, the teen heroes noticed something odd: a thin, tight-faced woman in her mid-sixties was sitting in the rear next to a tall, square-jawed man in his thirties with a faint stubble on his chin. They both looked like shady characters, looking around uncomfortably and trying a little too hard to not be noticed: a strange thing at a family funeral of a beloved superhero. On very close inspection, the old woman's clothes hung on her strangely, as if she was wearing something more advanced underneath. Stranger still was the woman's face: on very close inspection, Corbin and Erin recognized her from his history books! Maria Wading, aka The Queen of Cool, had been one of the more daring thieves of the disco age: an ice-controlling disco villain who'd disappeared in the early 1980s when disco was dying out.

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Corbin spared a moment to send a glance to Erin, Trevor, and Eve. His posture and mannerism said the same thing: "back me up". Of course, he then broadcasted to Sage directly.

--Tell Erin to start heading my way slowly. You and Trevor should probably keep alert for trouble from elsewhere. And I promise I'm going to play nice.--

As he walked, Corbin shifted his posture a bit. He made sure to slump, which didn't really reduce his height, but it made him appear calm and relaxed. He made sure the smile on his face was friendly, and when he spoke, it was slow, casual, and polite. When he got to Maria Wading's position, he cranked up the smile a bit and offered her a handshake.

"Hello ma'am. We're glad you could make it today to pay your respects. Do you two need anything? Is there anything I can help you with? This is a tough time for all of us, so we need to pull together."

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For her part, Sage easily blended into the crowd, her short stature working to her advantage. She moved easily among the gathered guests, almost approaching Mark a few times to express her condolences, but changing her mind each time. What she had to say was meant for her friend's ears alone.

The telepath heard Corbin's request through the mental link she maintained out of reflexive habit, and as requested sent his request speeding off to Wander out in the front of the building. Eve thought of sending a similar thought to Trevor, but he was standing only a few feet away, attentive as always.

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Erin was already on her way into the sanctuary, having taken a moment to place the face on the oddly dressed woman. She was a small-time villain from long before Erin's time, so it had taken awhile, but there'd been a couple pictures of her in among all the relics at Mark's house. Mark always liked talking about the pictures in his dad's collection, and they'd been a good way to distract him from his troubles. Right now, though, she wasn't sure they didn't have a whole new set of troubles. The Queen of Cool might look out of place, but the young man with her seemed to fit in entirely too well at this gathering of Lucases.

Eve undoubtedly had the mind link open by now, but Erin wasn't sure whether or not it would include Mark. So instead of relying on that, she skirted wide around Corbin and the strange pair and hurried to where Trevor and Eve were standing. In a voice too low to carry, she murmured, "I think the problem is more complicated. That woman there is the Queen of Cool, an old minor villain, but look at the guy with her. Now think about how Mark's going to look in another ten years or so."

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Trevor glanced subtly in the direction Erin had indicated, keeping his head slightly bowed and his voice low in a manner which would seem entirely appropriate for the somber event. It wasn't hard to deduce what she was suggesting, and even a cursory observation seemed to bear the hypothesis out. Closing his eyes for a moment and letting out a quiet sigh, the black clad youth rolled his shoulders. "At least it's not 'a robot or evil clone'," he noted philosophically, remaining calmly composed. Given what they knew of Rick and his life this really wasn't any great surprise. He was reminded briefly of the young woman they'd met leading the team of heroes in Psilent's possible timeline, but decided not to share the association aloud. "Don't think they'll cause trouble unless provoked. Watch the woman, though; wearing battlesuit."

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"We're fine, thank you," said Maria Wading tightly. Her grip on her program was practically white-knuckled and she was obviously tense, but she was there all the same and didn't look ready for violence. Underneath her black dress, she was wearing something that distinctly looked like her old blue and white costume. "We're just friends of the family. Old friends. I doubt anyone here's going to recognize us."


Next to her, her son said, "I'm Ed, and this is my mother Mary. We were just passing through Freedom City when we heard the news about Richard Lucas. Did you hear how it happened?" Ed seemed much calmer than his mother, or at least better at faking it than she was. "I'm sure his family must be devastated."

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Eve casually glanced toward the back of the room, following Corbin with her eyes as he spoke to Queen of Cool and her son. She winced internally as she considered what Erin was saying. Keeping her voice low, she turned back to look at both Erin and Trevor and murmured, "I have a standing policy with regard to the Lucas men and their... promiscuity. I try to not think about it."

Sage pinched the bridge of her nose and lot out a slow breath. -But I think you're right, Wander. God, Rick was such an ass,- she thought to Erin and Trevor. -How much do you want to bet this kid never met his father? Mark can't take one step without ending up in one of his father's messes.-

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"I don't know," Erin admitted softly. "Going by looks, he's at least thirty. I don't think Queen of Cool was active after like 1980 or so, so that would fit. That was something like ten years before he and Mark's mom got married, so maybe it just didn't work out, or something. I'll bet anything you want that he didn't spoil his happy family vibe by telling Martha or Mark about it, though. We can't make Mark deal with this today. But if we're right, then they have a right to be here. Maybe they won't cause any trouble." She didn't sound tremendously hopeful. "You better fill Corbin in."

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Corbin took note of the woman's obvious stress, and the young man's apparently calmer mood. He tried to appear as nonthreatening as possible; after a moment, he opted to kneel down next to their seats, which put the three people at mostly eye level. He made sure his easygoing smile was still on his face, and he spoke a bit softer.

"Ed, Mary, again, welcome. I know there are plenty of old friends of Mr. Lucas here-"

He stopped for a moment, Sage sending him the revelation the rest of them had come upon. He glanced again at Ed, his eyes widening a touch, but he soldiered on.

"As for how he passed away, the family has requested the details be kept private. All I will say is this: Rick Lucas passed on as a hero, working to save the lives of innocent people. He was a hero even in death. As far as I'm concerned, that's all that matters."

He glanced to the front of the sanctuary briefly before looking at these two guests again.

"Understandably, his family's a bit withdrawn at the moment. If you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to approach myself or some of the other volunteers during or after the service."

He stood up, his tone and smile never changing.

"We just want to make sure this service allows everyone the proper chance to mourn. Have as pleasant of an afternoon as possible."

He turned and walked around the sanctuary a bit more, actually passing the other members of Young Freedom by in an effort to avoid panicking these two guests. Instead, he opted to send a mental message to Sage.

--Mary's more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, but Ed's playing it cool for now. I tried not to lay it on too thick. Hopefully they won't make a scene.--

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Despite the presence of the former supervillain and the man who was almost certainly Rick Lucas' bastard child in the audience, the memorial service for the dead man went off without a hitch. After a few short words from Reverend Chang to start off the service, Martha herself opened the ceremony with a few words about her husband. "Thank you all for coming," she said, facing a crowd of heroes and family alike, looking in control of herself for the first time in a long time. "Today, we come together to remember a friend, a colleague...a father, and a husband, my husband, Richard Milhouse Lucas..." Mark took a turn after her, talking about all his father had meant to him, wiping away a few tears when he waxed emotional. Listening to Mark's stories about all Rick had taught him: about the meaning of friendship and family, about the sacrifices heroes made for each other and the world, it was obvious that Rick really had made Mark the man he was today.

Of course, thinking about that and weighing it against Mark's famously active social life and Rick's old flame in the back row...well it was difficult enough to think about. A surprising number of old heroes took the stage afterwards; Daedalus and Siren, even the rarely-seen first Raven carefully stood up behind the podium and said a few words about Rick Lucas. He'd touched a lot of lives, though from the rather careful way some of the older heroes phrased it: "He was a man who could always surprise me," not sounding like a compliment from the first Raven, finally the service was over. After a last benediction and a few last words from the Reverend, everyone was dismissed to go below for the wake! The church basement turned out to be a lively place despite the solemn occasion; jaunty 1960s swing music playing, old movies of the Freedom League going on the wall, and a smiling, huge Rick Lucas giving a Centurion-wink from a big picture on the wall. Mark was everywhere down there, shaking hands and accepting good wishes, but made time for the friends he could along the way.

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Having a job made the strangeness of sitting through a memorial service easier for Erin, so she kept on with it into the wake as well. Their two interlopers were behaving themselves, and after awhile she just started to feel sorry for them. She suspected they wouldn't stay very long at the wake, but no matter how she might feel personally, she wasn't going to let them get close to Mark or Martha.

Instead, she made her way through the crowd to Mark herself, waiting for a moment when he was between conversations. "Most of these pictures are copies, right?" she asked, gesturing to the photos on the walls. "There's some guests that have to leave soon, would it be okay to give them one of the pictures to take with?" She didn't want to get any more specific, and hoped Mark wouldn't think to ask.

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