The old man walked carefully between the headstones, making his way through the graveyard softly as the mid-day summer sun burned overhead. He didn’t search as he walked; this was a journey as familiar to him as the path home. If anyone was watching, they might have noticed he was a bit spry for one so advanced in years, but, as is often the case in cemetery, everyone present had more pressing matters on their minds.
He arrived at the headstone to find someone already standing there, a beautiful woman with sharp features and short blonde hair. Seeing her, he let out a long breath, then walked over and stood next to her, staring down at the name on the headstone.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he muttered at last.
“I was going to say the same to you,” Clarissa replied. “There is still a manhunt out, even if the Sons of Progress momentarily stole the spotlight.”
“I needed to come. After everything that happened… I just feel a bit lost.”
Clarissa reached out and took the old man’s arm, wrapping her own around it. “You did everything you could.”
“No, Shims. That’s the problem. I could have done, I should be doing, so much more.” The image of the old man rippled, then disappeared. Clarissa was familiar enough with Globe’s power to know when he was stretching an illusion. If anyone else looked in, they’d still see the old man and beautiful woman mourning at a grave. Only she could see his real face, and the grief etched on it.
“I could have saved so many of them. I could have stopped the Sons of Progress dead in their tracks. But I didn’t. Because if Globe came to the rescue, that truly would have killed Lander. All because the world sees me as a monster. If only… I just can’t bear the weight of many more deaths. I’m so tired, Shims. So many years spent like this, so many people I could have saved, lost because I was in the shadows. I can’t take much more.”
“You won’t have to.” She pulled him close and wrapped her arms around him, wishing she could squeeze him hard enough to make him see himself the way all the others did. “George is close. Maybe months, maybe weeks, but he’s close. We’ll find the lab, and when we do you’ll have all the proof you need.”
“And what a joyous day that will be.” His voice was hollow as he stared down at the marble marker in front of them. “Some days, I still think I can reach him. That there’s a thing I could say or do to bring him back from whatever abyss he’s fallen into. I know it’s crazy though. Chuck is gone, at least the version of him that could be saved. At least he sends flowers, though.”
The world-renowned villain nodded to the tasteful bouquet set just in front of the tombstone. It had been delivered earlier that day, a date that matched the final one on the headstone. A fresh bouquet came every year, as did ones to only two other gravestones Charles Adair ensured were properly decorated on their respective anniversaries.
“What do you think Jack would say if he could see the way things went?” Clarissa asked.
“If he were around, I doubt they ever would have gotten this far in the first place. But if he could see them now, he’d probably tell me I was trying to take on too much. ‘Supers aren’t gods’ was one of his favorite ways to remind me that even I had limits. Then again, maybe he’d say I was on the right path. He always did try to make sure I understood that duty came with power.”
“Sounds like either way, he’d think you were doing what was right.” Clarissa released her embrace and went back to holding his arm, supporting Globe in the ways even he didn’t know he needed.
“I hope so. I really do. I’ve set this course and I’ll see it through no matter what. All I can do now is pray that it will turn out to be for the best.”
Slowly, Globe turned away and began to walk back down the cemetery path, Clarissa still gently holding his arms. Behind them, a gust of wind caught the fresh bouquet, blowing a few delicate petals against the headstone marking the grave of Detective Jack Reynolds.
* * *
Nick sat atop the remains of what had once been a water tower, watching his friends as they trained, ate, and scurried about. He’d found the place on his second week at their makeshift summer camp, and since then he’d scarcely let a day pass without climbing up to think for at least a few minutes. It kept things in perspective, reminded him that while training in the dirt with the others was fine, it was his responsibility to keep an eye on the big picture.
Things outside their little camp were bad, worse than the others knew. Getting them away from all forms of media had been a smart call, none of them needed to hear the sorts of accusations being bandied about regarding Lander. At least Dean Blaine would still be around; hearing that news had lifted a tremendous weight from Nick’s shoulders. Of course, Lander, along with every other HCP campus, would likely be crawling with the DVA now, and perhaps for good reason. Being taken off-guard was one thing, any opponent with sufficient time, money, and planning could overwhelm even the best defenses. But not learning from it, failing to tighten security in the wake of what had happened, now that truly would have a mistake to lay at the HCP’s door.
They’d have to deal with all of that soon enough, summer was already winding down. Only a little while left to live in this sprawling, dusty oasis. Then they had to go back. Months of healing might be undone simply by walking on campus. That much, unfortunately, Nick couldn’t help with. It was up to each of them to decide if they were willing to walk back into that world, now that they really understood what it entailed.
And it was Nick’s job to watch over the ones who stayed, whether they wanted it or not.