85 - "From A Father's Eyes"
"It is much easier to become a father than to be one."
- Kent NerburnApril 15th A home in suburban Manhattan, where Peter Maza contemplates his broken family...
Father. I feared that word once.
Now I'm a grandfather.
Look at you, so tiny, hands curled into fists and cradled into Diane's hand-stitched blanket. My new granddaughter.
She sleeps so peacefully, unaware of the chaos outside these windows, where monsters rampaged and people died under the rubble. It's selfish maybe, to celebrate one life amongst so much death, but it's all I have.
Little April Juliette Maza, named for the month of your birth and a favorite grandmother, and barely a week old. Maggie fought long and hard to shed you from your little nine-month cradle, you didn't want to leave.
Thirteen hours in labor, that farm-girl from Ohio's stronger than any of us realize.
I see her mother and father in her eyes, and the narrow slope of her cheekbones towards a strong chin. Her skin is a perfect mixture; it reminds me of my mother's homemade caramel. When the cream would blend with brown sugar, and produce the sweet auburn color.
And so smooth to the touch. I love just running my fingertips over her cheeks, her arms and her stomach, and when she catches my finger in her hand, my heart literally stops.
I finally have my 'perfect' grandchild.
But fate could have blessed her a mutate like her parents, fur and wings and a little tail peeking out from her diaper. A scrunched up muzzle, mewling for her mother's milk, wobbling on high-arched feet as you learned to walk, and taking to the sky on black, batlike wings. Would she still be beautiful?
And upon the answer, something flickers in my mind. A question among many I've often tried to avoid.
Is Trinity any less beautiful because she's half gargoyle...?
I don't think her ugly. How can anyone think she's anything but gorgeous wearing Elisa's own face? She has the blood of queens, of royalty.
Do I...hate her?
I sit in silence for fifteen minutes, trying to answer that question without waffling in between. But there is no in-between with something so easy as hatred. And no, no I don't. Even I'm not capable of that, me, the man who drove a wedge through my own family.
I don't hate her. I don't hate her because she's gargoyle. I fear her, because she's part human.
I fear the repercussions of her conception, for my family, for everyone that didn't ask to be in-laws with a gargoyle, and to be suddenly thrown into their deadly war. I fear for the baby girl resting peacefully in my arms and her proud, blissful parents. A child has already died, the twenty-third was attacked, one cop killed, two maimed. P.I.T. supporters, young, brave, stupid kids two hundred and fifty strong, were torn apart in an explosion taking a chunk of Central Park with it.
The Ku Klux Klan for the modern age, with masks instead of sheets, guns instead of burning crosses, bloodshed instead of simple scare tactics. They're armed to the teeth and dangerously proactive, hoping to succeed where the Quarrymen ultimately failed, and taking the initiative no one else would. They even had the gall to storm Wyvern, and tempt their fate with an all-out assault against the gargoyles and a full barrage of weaponry.
Damn their arrogance, but providence meted out a fitting sentence, didn't it?
And now my girl is lost out there, because of them, because of this Sobek, because of Demona, because of every little goddamned tyrant and psychotic that thinks they know best how this world should be. Because there exists such a rift between two destructive species.
And because hatred and fear and narrow-mindedness still exist even in this so-called enlightened world...
...and because a father, a man who once struggled under the boot of oppression, became what he hated the most.
I think about Elisa, and how I've treated her. I think about what I did and I've become in the aftermath.
I am...a racist. A bigot.
No, I can't be, I can't be.
My hands are trembling with the thought, and I fear for the fragile child cradled to my arms. She doesn't wake. She doesn't seem to mind the shiver running through my hands and the pain that constricts her grandpa's heart.
All my life I have struggled for some sort of equality, even my own heritage is mixed, Hopi and Sioux. Then I meet this exotically beautiful African woman, who spit fire and fought so damned hard for her voice to be heard among the white majority of sixties America. Did I see any difference between us? During the protests and riots? No. Maybe I was blinded by a fool's fascination, which quickly turned to devotion, enthrallment, love.
Is this what Elisa saw in Goliath? Did she see the wings, the lavender skin, the claws, fangs and tail? Or did she see the intellectual, the gentle leader, the noble warrior? Skin and flesh never makes a man, does it Peter, conviction does.
He's a sanctimonious bastard, Goliath, brilliant, formidable, terminally self-righteous but with good cause and better validation. He sees the world like no one else; he's cunning, and worldly, experienced. A true leader among human sheep.
And my son-in-law.
I was forced into his crusade by his marriage to Elisa. I was made an ally, and a target along with my family, but I let it all happen. I let him love my daughter, because I thought it was right. I gave consent against my better judgment for them to marry, only because it brought Elisa so much.
Their love seemed so powerful, daunting, it shook me and my old uncertainties, to the point where I donned a tux and stood with a forced smile as they stood in front of judge Roblyn.
But now the decision's come back to haunt me, to force me to live my life constantly looking over my shoulder, watching for that one face out of a Manhattan crowd, one that could pull a concealed gun from his coat and open fire, screaming nationalistic propaganda to the gullible masses.
And if stepping outside to face the world didn't upset me enough, I'm facing another war at home, one that uses excruciating subtlety and resentful looks to tear apart a once impenetrable force.
I'm afraid to face my own goddamned children.
Of everything we've disagreed on, Derek and I at last stood on the same ground. With his restored, delicate humanity, and all the new risks that came with, he shot off with that mouth of his when he shouldn't have. Now, he's quiet, almost introvert, and his own fears of his remaining electrical powers, proven by the damage they wrought on Goliath, have him afraid of even handling his own daughter.
Maggie no longer looks at me with glistening, reverent eyes; in fact, she rarely looks at me at all. We exchange pleasantries, about the baby and the shelter, and often, the conversation trails off into an uncomfortable silence.
And Beth, she's slowly, clinically removed herself, filling the void with her quickly burgeoning career under the Xanatos umbrella.
It was Beth, acting as the liaison between our family and Wyvern, who told us Elisa had disappeared, sucked into God knows where. And I've never heard such veiled anger in my baby girl's voice.
But, of course, I'm a stubborn old man who turned his back on everything he fought for, and became what my oldest daughter, what every creature struggling for equality fears the most. Hatred can't be beaten, can't be chased down, locked up and put away, never to be seen again. Prejudice isn't something tangible, something that can be touched and fought and beaten with one's hands. It's much more, it's stronger than anyone can imagine. It's a disease, infectious, contagious, and rallies the sane and rational to its ranks.
In my zeal to protect, I've unwittingly become the enemy. The irony isn't too blatant.
My eyes catch movement. The shadows that were still along the walls subtly shift, and I know, after sitting here for so long, someone's come to intrude.
It was so damned quiet I never heard Diane creep in, and silently watch from the doorsill.
I wonder if she's already noticed, under the blue light of the moon.
I'm crying, freely, pitifully, my chest is heaving and I'm leaning forwards dangerously. The little girl whimpers, all too aware now, and Diane quickly runs towards me and steals the child away in case I drop her. I would have.
I crumbled, from my chair to the ground, huddling and sobbing like some wretched thing. This is what I've become. "Diane...what have I done...?"
Her answer, is to extend her hand to make contact between us. I can feel her fingers sluice through long strands that drained of color it seems so long ago, riding the back of my neck.
"You acted all too human, Peter." she whispered, her voice like spiced honey. "You fell prey to an ancient hatred, but a justifiable fear of seeing your family, the people you risked so much for, hurt in any way by Elisa's marriage to Goliath, and her choice to have her baby."
I hold to her free hand as if it's going to disappear, and shelter this incredible dark flesh in trembling hands. "I drove her away. My little girl." My mouth was moving against her palm, tears running hot along the little imperfections that pepper lightly across her skin. "And now, she's lost somewhere...carrying the hatred of her father with her..."
Diane doesn't say a word, she just comforts her granddaughter.
"I'M NOT A BIGOT!!!" I suddenly scream, and fill our house with an echo that could shatter glass. "I'm not a damned bigot!"
"Peter...!" she warns, as April mewls irritably from her blanket. "The baby."
But at the moment, the comfort of a child isn't foremost on my mind. I'm babbling, clenching into the carpet. "I'm not a bigot...I'm not like them, I don't hate for no reason...was it too much to protect my family?" I turned towards her, and judging by her reaction, something frightened her. I could see animal in her eyes, but, it was merely the reflection of my own. "Was it too much to safeguard everything I had fought for?!"
"No. It never is, only the execution."
How true. I cut one part of my family to save another; like self-administered amputation without anesthetic, I gritted my teeth and suffered through. Burying my face in my hands, all I can do is think of Elisa, and where she is, and how she must feel so far away from everyone she loves.
And how empty I am for pushing her away. Pushing them all away. "She's been sent to her death..."
"Never." she ends any doubt. "Elisa's been through far worse."
"I might never see her again."
Diane kneels beside me, and we entwine. Between us, April murmurs contentedly. "She'll come home. We're Mazas, Peter, we're survivors."
****************************************Beneath the sands of future Egypt, where Goliath wrestles with his fears...
Human ingenuity has never ceased to amaze me.
And their arrogance, in thinking they can best nature, which led this particular world to its own demise.
Sand seeps through cracks of this bunker, bleeding through the ceiling's seams and a layer of armor a foot thick, clogging the machines and forcing me, a new resident added to the menagerie of race and creed, to maintain them with vigilance. The dust falls from a far corner above one of the supplemental water conditioners, it sprinkles across my shoulder as a dare, and as if to laugh.
I growl at its conceit.
And my own. I am not immune it seems to thinking I am above that of nature, even small grains of sand that spelled doom to this ruined world after the machines had razed the landscape.
I have sealed many cracks in the bunker's walls, using this silicon gel provided, but it always finds a way to best technology fifteen hundred years in advance of the twenty-first century.
My century, and a time I was only getting used to as my home.
Egypt's winds would erode this place if not for the remaining human and gargoyles' efforts to make this sanctuary a home. To use for a better purpose the technology that eradicated almost the whole of humanity in this alternate world. And for their generosity to allow us to stay, to allow us to leech upon their precious supplies, I have taken it upon myself to help them as best I can.
I am not a mechanic, nor do I profess to completely understand these machines beyond even Lexington's understanding, but all mechanisms need attention, all have a similarity of moving parts that often only need a simple, skilled touch. All who know me, often brand me illiterate to any machinery past the tenth century, and they believe I am ignorant of technology, of computers, microwaves and internal combustion engines.
They are wrong, but I do not care to enlighten them. Let them think what they want, let them believe I have such a failing, let them misconstrue.
I blink suddenly, as something gritty intrudes upon my eyes, sifting down my face. I taste it, unfortunately, and feel the rough grains along my tongue. Sand and more sand, ribbons of tawny dust leaching through the crack, and resting casually upon my brow.
The walls echo something deep and resonant, and I realize my chest is humming. I reach up, straining at arm's length to seal the gap, spreading the gel with the applicator. I watch it coagulate and turn from a water clear to a sterling opaqueness and bond on the molecular level with the alloyed steel.
Impressive. No matter how many times I watch that, it is a fascinating little trick.
I search through the myriad of scents for more fissures. The sands of Egypt have a peculiar scent, fire and palm, and dry, dry death, especially against the sterility of the bunker's steel walls.
But, there's something new intruding along the recycled air.
I smell you.
Her scent is unique, different than anything I have encountered.
I hear you too, child.
She is surprisingly quiet, but untrained in the ways of stealth. Though she was skilled at skulking through Wyvern's corridors, she has not yet learned to hide her growing wings from corners, or a tail that will betray her thoughts and sway into view.
I turn, and peer from the corner of my eye past the sable mane that intrudes upon my sight, to the pipe that feeds the main living quarters with fresh water. An inquisitive gaze shines from the darkness.
I cannot help but smile.
Hello little one, my daughter, my blood. How your brown eyes haunt me. So much like your mother's, but glinting with my dark, twilight hue, only just, and only with the right light.
To my chagrin I notice she is staring vigilantly as she hides, and seems nervous around me.
Do you fear me, my daughter? Do I look so hideous without my wings, or seem so monstrous by my anger and grief? Perhaps all you see are the two massive scars running the length of my upper back, your father transformed, and taken of his dignity. You've yet to ask me where they have gone, to sate your ever-ravenous curiosity, you instead inquire of your mother in hushed tones and she struggles to reply. A few days ago I might have lashed out, but now...
I would answer any question you have even if I did not have the response. You are too precious to lose, and I have already lost so much.
I jump down and land, and she flinches with the tremor having run through the floor's diamond-plate plating. "Trinity." I rumble, not meaning to command, and scare her from her hiding place.
She hesitates, then ambles outwards from behind the machine that kept her nearly hidden from my eyes, but not my sense of smell. Her tail thumps lightly on the ground, and her tresses do well to suckle the light, leaving behind a haloed sheen.
I slowly crouch to her level as we stare at each other from a distance, and she runs a finger across her lips, timid. Chin tucked inwards, shoulders angled and her wings limp, her posture implied fear, and she hid her eyes and cherub features well within the stray hairs curled to each side. I invite her by forcing a smile and holding out my arms, I beckon for her touch, and her faith in her father. "Come here."
She runs to me, assured of my disposition, and throws her arms around my neck. Her grip is exceedingly strong, clutching to my neck and the tumbles of hair as if frightened to let go.
As I stand, and lift her seven feet into the air, I take solace in her warmth. In seeking my hands through hair with the reminiscent vestige of Elisa.
How precious this child is. How full of life and the promise of something greater.
She is not just my daughter, she is the very physical embodiment of the bond Elisa and I share. Sheer proof our love can indeed overcome all odds, no matter how impossible they may seem. A beacon, of hope, of unity between two distinctly different and culturally distant races that evolved together, and learned from millions of years of progression to hate one another.
My daughter. How strange, even after all this time, to use this word so freely.
In my species' communal family, she would be considered a daughter of the clan. But I cannot imagine allowing any other to take parentage of her. She is mine, stubbornly, selfishly, contentedly mine, and no other man would dare claim fatherhood, no woman but Elisa motherhood, without reprisal.
I am a father. By love and passion, by devotion I created her, I held my hand across Elisa's stomach for nine excruciatingly long months as she stretched the walls of fragile human flesh to reach out for me. I nearly fainted, child, when you were born, exhilaration, shock, the expectation to at last hold you. How you came screaming and kicking into this world, all vigor and spitfire, will forever be burned into my fondest memories.
I had become so lost, as often, in my thoughts. I am reflective if not often preoccupied by what churns within me. Trinity's breath willows past my ear and sets a thin vibration against my hair, and I turn. She seems intent on something beyond my shoulder.
"Hurt?" she murmurs once more, her eyes looking past mine.
Her vocabulary is stunted; for she is only a year and a half, and trying as best she can to speak in a newly forming language. But I know. I see how her eyes can only focus on the dark crag of skin nearly reaching into full view on my shoulders, and how her wings, my wings in Elisa's wondrous bronze, droop in fine tune with her emotions.
Her tiny hand is cautiously touching my scar, where my right wing used to be. "Duzza hurt?"
"Sometimes." I whisper softly into her elfishly pointed ear, and nuzzle into her black river of hair, so soft, and flawless. I am lying of course, for the scars hurt, and burn, all the time. Damn you, Sobek. "Only sometimes."
A little blunted talon traces the bulge of thick, dead skin, and I think for a moment, she is going to cry. "Ca' fly." she soothes me, and tries her best to calm the great unrest she can somehow feel emanating through me.
I am surprised for a moment. Can you truly sense my pain? My rage?
Somehow, I believe you can. You have a special power, Trinity Hope.
"You will fly for me, daughter." I answer, and she smiles, the anticipation of the open skies always a pleasant thought. Her daytime dreams of using her wings to soar like her father and clan. "You will touch the stars and moon and sun, and scoop the clouds into your hands."
Pain stabs, and I nearly double over. The ever-present ache has resurfaced with the mere mention of her name.
My eldest, dead.
"Yes..." I choke out, lying, and sheltering her from the truth. What will I tell her about her sister? Angela will no longer be there to read to her and hug her and assure her of a future ripe and secure. "With Angela."
What have I fated you to? What kind of life have I condemned you to?
She answers, by leaning back, and playing her tiny hand across my jaw, over my mouth, smiling as she explores. She dwells in a world of constant wonder, of innocence. And I can't help but imagine when it will be cruelly shattered as things are always destined to be.
"Come, my daughter," I whisper to her, bracing my arm beneath this tiny body clinging to my chest, "let's go find your mother."
"Yuh." She nods, flutters her wings, and we begin our journey through the tunnels of our adopted home, a haven.
I see my kind, walking the halls alongside humans so naturally it is unnerving. It took so much for them to finally rely on each other, to fully trust one another; where only the near-total destruction of this world brought two warring species together, and it portends only further hardship ahead of me in my own time.
I'm so tired of fighting with such demands on my resolve and sanity, and sometimes, betray my most primal instincts to think to concede.
Trinity squeals at a young gargoyle as we pass, and of course, I'm reminded of the sacrifice I would make. There's that smile again, tugging at my lips.
We exit from a smaller junction leading into a common room, towering, expansive with high ceilings and plenty of light. We enter, and my daughter pulls herself to the very end of my arms to better roam her wide gaze, dartingly, and she scans the meager, dotted crowd.
Led by the scent, and an intuitive trail most likely she isn't fully aware of, she finds her mother.
She's there, with Jacosta, and the newest resident, Isis.
I feel my eyes flicker something fierce without my knowledge. If I were to catch my reflection, it would herald an instant of recognition of spurs and wildly painted stripes, until, as quickly as it came, it would vanish. Isis, a reticent, irritable sorceress, with a heavy-horned glare that seems to examine my very soul, she appears to duck her gaze as I enter.
"Hey, Big Guy."
The unpretentious greeting instantly draws my attention. My Elisa... "Elisa."
She smiles weakly. Even with the fatigue I see in her very posture, there is comfort there; she forgets for a moment what we went through, and what our marriage suffered, and still suffers to this day. The bond has been tested, through death and circumstance.
"Mommy!" Trinity writhes from my grasp and runs to her mother, and I witness firsthand the empirical power of love, as Elisa beams at her daughter.
Once, it was hard to see the hard-boiled detective in any such role, but motherhood wears well on her. I believe, she too, is surprised at how well she adapted. Perhaps she was always somehow prepared for this; who knows how far dreams can reach, and how they can groom us for the reality.
With my fears influencing every command decision before I was deposed, I chided her very need to have another child, to further fulfill that reality.
But should Elisa be condemned for such a common desire? Should I brand her selfish, and hide behind the excuse of a world gone mad? I truly don't know, and honestly, I don't know why she has yet to go insane with the life she leads. Her clan is her stability, her children. With the fact she and I can conceive, she has hinged her existence and sanity on one little girl, and the assurance of another.
She cannot be criticized by anyone for trying to grasp what little normality this life has to offer. The life I bestowed to her, by the simple oath of love we both tried so very hard to ignore.
But I have already lost Angela, if I were to lose Trinity...or this...
My gaze intentionally falls to her stomach. If I were to lose this other child, I do not know how I could cope.
I go to reach out, and hesitate with my hand. I flick my eyes up, and my wife recognizes the apprehension.
Elisa knows for what I dwell.
With her look of consent, almost an inclination, I touch her stomach, and prod my taloned fingers about the womb where an impossible fusion of cells is slowly, miraculously emerging. Warmth, my sensitive flesh discerns, it is warmer here than in the rest of her body, the allusion of new life.
"Am I showing already?" she jokes, braving a grin.
And I match it, gray, but there. "Only by your smile."
I continue to stare, and I sense Elisa's eyes detecting like they always do. Most likely, she's translating even the minutia of every subtle, unconscious gesture I'm not even aware I'm making. The little furrows in my brow, the crease of skin alongside my eyes, anything could be a revelation, a crack in my stubborn armor she somehow sees right through.
"I know you're afraid..."
My interruption is preceded by a growl, "You have no idea." It came out a little grim, a little more forceful than I would have wished.
But then, as a challenge, her eyes grew dark. "I have every idea, because I have every fear you do. Every tiny, passing thought and possibility of what could happen. Dreams become nightmares, random reflections become horrifying prospects."
I nod in the affirmative. Horrifying indeed. "That is exactly why I didn't want another!"
The gathered citizens steal furtive glances at my outburst, and I instantly regret the power behind my voice. They're already wary of the emotionally erratic, wingless gargoyle.
Elisa sighs, and rubs comforting fingers across her brow. We're treading in familiar waters, again. "Reality check, Big Guy. She's coming, whether you want her or not."
"And what if I said I didn't want this child?"
She ponders my vicious claim for a moment, searching my features for any definitive truth. "I'd say you're lying."
She's testing our boundaries, the very limits at which we often walk. "The chance to have children, with you, is something I never dreamed possible. But having them taken away, is a nightmare I have already faced once...and do not wish to repeat."
Elisa throws her eyes away. Her best friend was killed, and she takes the loss as hard as I do. "Fear is a good excuse, isn't it?" she whispers. "To hate, to argue, to deny everything you want, to escape the challenge of living."
"If you think I am going to shirk my responsibilities as a father..."
"I am sadly mistaken?" she teases back, in a mockingly heavy voice. "I never said that, I never implied it. I just don't want you to look on this child as something to fear, but something to celebrate."
"Sometimes," I sigh, defeated, "it is hard to distinguish."
Elisa smiles that determined smile, shakes her head, and peels Trinity from around her legs. She hoists her growing daughter into her arms, and they excitedly trade stories of their day. Fifteen hundred years into the future and pregnant, her will is remarkable. And I watch envious, wishing I could feel as she does, and be as strong as she is.
But all my thoughts, still dwell on the little spark of growing life in her stomach.
And I can't help but to fear for it.
****************************************The Eyrie medical wing, where Todd Hawkins' life is radically changing...
Fuck. I'm going to be a father.
Maybe I'm still drunk, still leaning over a castle of empty shotglasses, and this is all just an alcohol-induced hallucination.
And maybe if I close my eyes...
No. The world didn't evaporate and turn back to some sense of normal. I'm still here, sitting beside Annika, and reality is still using me as its bitch.
I turn slightly, and from the corner of my eye, see my wife staring forwards with her chin resting on folded knuckles, listening intently to Pierce as he drones on, and on, and on. I hope she's sucking up all the information, because I'm still numb.
Mental note. Sue the Bone-Up condom corporation for gross negligence. If they only put a warning on their labels...
"Mr. Hawkins, are you listening...?"
I'm snapped from my imaginary lawsuit. "What?"
And Annika, in her all too modest tendencies, jabs me in the side. Unggh. Elbow spur. Well placed. "Pay attention." she snarls, as I rub my pitifully bruised kidney, which, either by her or some random villain, I'm going to lose someday.
"You might want to listen." Pierce adds insult to injury. "This information is pertinent to the little genetic time-bomb in your wife's stomach."
Bomb, that's for damn sure.
"Sorry." I spit out. I feel like I've just been scolded. Why does everyone here speak down to me as if I'm some bratty kid? I'm trying to deal!
"As I was saying, the conception blueprint has been reversed with inter-species coupling. Your child will probably develop characteristics closer to a gargoyle than human."
"An egg." Annika presumes, calmly. She seems to be taking this all in stride, but she's always been the calmest between us. She's my rock.
"Most likely yes. Standard gestation for gargoyles is six months, and after that, depending on how fast your child will develop outside of its mother's body, and basing merely, and hypothetically mind you, on the averages, it could be anywhere from another six months to four years until it hatches."
I nearly choke on my tongue. Four years?? Okay, wait...is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Having an egg for a kid is bad enough, but do I have to wait four fucking years for it to hatch?
"As the fetus develops further, I'll be able take another sample of amniotic fluid, and do a karotype," he flicks his eyes towards me for just a split second, "or gene map for the 'unenlightened'."
My brow lowers, and I set my jaw. It wasn't implied, but I knew he was directing that at me. So I didn't go to college, and not a whole hell of a lot of people would know what a karotype is.
At least not the ones who went to my high school. Or had my attention span.
"Then I'll be able to tell whether or not your child is healthy. We've had two successful human gargoyle conceptions so far and one successful delivery, so I'm hoping your clan's incredible luck and innate stubbornness to survive will curry some favor."
Then, his expression suddenly drops like a stone, and I hold my breath. I've seen looks like that before from more than one authority figure, and it's never good. Especially when it's the doctor that holds your baby's life in his hands.
He relaxes himself against his desk, and steeples his fingers against his mouth. "I want to impress this on both of you. We are dealing with something entirely new, and something dangerously fragile. Even after Trinity, there are still variables even I'm not aware of. Your body, Annika, with its hyper-stimulated immune system, may even reject this child as a foreign object."
Jesus. Subtle much?
I look over at Annika, and she took it like someone would take a bullet. I swear I almost saw her jerk with the impact. But she's never liked when people dance around the truth, and Pierce never sugarcoats.
He nods at her. "Uncommon for gargoyles from what I've heard, but, a possibility Goliath and Elisa had to face during her pregnancy."
There's nothing I can do but rub a hand to her shoulder, and watch at least part of the smile reappear. Nothing's ever easy, is it, gorgeous? You deserve so much more than to live this kind of life.
Is this what my life is going to be like? A succession of battles, death-threats, and terrifying experiences that either turn my hair gray or make it completely fall out from my head?
And everything's changing...so damned fast, and it's like I can't keep up. Kendra and Crash are moving away after university, I find my mother's still alive, we're all living under constant fear of the Guild, people are either disappearing or dying, and I'm...going to be a father.
A father, god, even saying it hurts.
How the hell am I going to be a dad when I didn't have one of my own? Is there some kind of online course for this? The closest I've ever come to fatherhood are a few ill-fated pets. A couple dead fish, a rabid ferret, and the less said about that stray cat the better.
I've watched Goliath with Trinity, Xanatos with Alex, and think, playing with them or reading them stories, hell, it'll be a breeze. Then I think about diapers, feeding, crying, pooping, screaming, bathing, complaining, protecting...flying...soon enough I break out in a cold sweat and curl into a fetal position on the floor.
I wonder...I wonder if my own dad went through this, if he was as worried, as scared, as...happy as I am, or at least, hope to be when the initial shock wears off. All I can do is guess.
I'll never know.
Elbow spur. "Wha...?!" it pops out, and I'm busted. With a sheepish smile, I apologize. "Oh. Sorry..." my eyes wander again, to the charts, physiology books, the chalkboard diagrams of a crudely drawn womb, "got lost there for a second."
But Pierce seems to take it in stride. He's probably impressed I haven't started running around screaming like a damned fool and jumped out the closest window. But little does he know I would be if it weren't for my legs having gone completely numb. "If you have any more questions, Todd, Annika, you know where to find me."
We both rise with the intent to leave, slowly, and synchronized to the other. "Thanks doc."
Annika follows me out into the hospital, and I slow, for no apparent reason, and then trail behind her. No, there is a reason, and it's there, in the steadily breathing darkness. "I'm just...going to..." My eyes center helplessly into the far corner, where, she lies sedated.
Annika nods. She has that particular power to understand what I can't just say. "I know." I feel her arms wrap around my shoulders, and her chin tuck into my shoulder and neck, and her wings, they drape around both of us like some worn blanket. "Love you," she breathes, "daddy."
I twitch uncomfortably. I wish she would stop saying that. It's almost like an indirect reminder of the responsibility I'm expected to take on.
But, she's excited I guess.
Her grip goes tight. "You...haven't really said much the last week."
She's right. Maybe to spare the chore and discomfort of speaking about it, I've used the excuse of the troubled son trying to deal with his past. "I think I'm still trying to ingest everything. Are you excited?"
"You as scared as I am?"
"More." her voice runs hot against the cleft of my shoulder, going underneath my shirt. There is fear there, and for some sick, justifiable reason, I'm relieved. At least I'm not alone in my feelings. "I'll see you upstairs later?"
My eyes are trained on that lone bed, and the slim, shadowed form lying so still. Like a corpse. "Soon."
She understands of course, and kisses me on the neck. I feel the faint, cold touch of fang, and shiver.
Annika pads off, and slips from the room with barely a rustle of her wings. Despite the fact she weighs more than I do, she's so light on her feet. I strain dull human sight to follow the fading rose, until she's swallowed completely into the hall. As an artist, I appreciate tones and hue, as subtle as they may be, and in any form.
Annika is art, her color and lines, and pencil-perfect grace.
My wife, I couldn't draw anything better.
Well, maybe...with red and blue pencil crayons.
My eyes go wide. Uh oh. Naughty thoughts are intruding, and an angry gargoyle mate has already bruised me enough.
In an attempt to fill my mind with something that won't slap me with divorce papers, I stroll forwards, not really wanting to rush, until I reach that far bed's rail and lean against it.
So, here I am. Again, staring at her. God knows how many hours I've spent in this relentlessly dark hospital, sitting by her bedside, watching her writhe and moan as she's attacked by something inside her head.
I take the chair molded with my butt-print in the vinyl cushion, and settle in for another night of aimlessly searching my thoughts.
Hmph. In the right light, she really does look like me. Especially the hair.
Rose, I love her, and I hate her. I can't help but to feel this way about the woman who stole everything I was.
I'm sure the clan is talking behind my back. How can I be so cruel to the woman who raised me?
They have a point. She was the woman who read to me at night. She was the woman who made Christmas at an orphanage something bearable. Rose filled the hole in my life.
She was the woman who wiped the blood from my lip whenever I got into fights, and as much as I strained against her, she muscled through. As much as I said I hated the others for making fun of me at school, she told me not to hate. She told me hatred leads to something darker, something uncontrollable. It was almost as if she was speaking from experience.
So why can't I stop hating her?
For twenty years, she was the one constant in my life I knew I could count on since the car went off the cliff. And now, I find out she was in the passenger seat.
She's a lie. Everything I loved about Rose is a fucking lie!
My memories of that night...they're fuzzy, fractured, barely even there. Maybe it's because I forced myself to forget the entire thing. Screaming, crying, covered in cuts, blood and flaming car debris before the rescue parties found me, what kid wouldn't suppress that? I forced the first three years of my life away, making a clean slate, and so much so, I couldn't even remember my parents' own faces anymore.
And how perfect for 'sister Rose' to walk back into my life, and play her new role to perfection.
I just can't figure out why. Why would she first leave me after surviving the crash, and then come back to help raise me?
I remember first meeting her, I had lived at the home for two years and I was running through the hallways, basically being a little bastard, and ran into her skidding around a corner. I expected another long-winded sermon from the latest convent volunteer to stumble upon 'Hurricane Hawkins', but all she did, all she did was smile at me.
"Hello, Todd Matthew."
I stared up at her. And I wondered how she knew my name. Then I flipped her off and ran away. Poetic justice her own son flashed her the bird, but she didn't say a thing. I've always wondered why she paid special attention to me, now I know.
Funny, looking down at her...
I see her...I see them as two people. Sister Rose, and my mother. One existed, and then another took her place by revealing a simple secret with a hole through her stomach. Not only did she lie to me, conceal everything I was...my mother killed Sister Rose. That's why I hate her. "That's why I hate you."
And I don't know how I can ever forgive you, I don't know how to do that. And if you think I'm going to buy some sob story explanation, you're in for a fucking disappointment...!
Wait. Are her eyes fluttering...?
Jesus, she's awake. Jesus...
I'm staring. She's looking at me. She's awake and she's looking at me.
I'm still staring.
Say something, Hawkins, this is the woman who took away your life. Damnit, say something...!
****************************************Somewhere beneath Manhattan, where 'Mr. Black' pursues the perfect revenge...
I am the king of an empire, with a mortal wound that is taking far too long to heal.
As I walk through the hangar bay, filled with vehicles so impressive it would shake the American military to its core, I wade through tested loyalty and dejection at losing our first true fight. Morale is low, our conceit has cost us.
We were so proud; I was so proud. I accept responsibility for not just an army, but a singular entity which I am the head.
I led by my hubris, my supremacy in our numbers and weaponry, my righteousness, but the beasts, they fought back. Merciless, they swathed through our ranks quickly and efficiently and beyond my wildest expectations, along with their computer-generated pet. Many of my people have been permanently scarred by clawmarks when the gargoyles forced themselves through their protective shields, and will carry those mutilations for the rest of their lives.
Compelling reminders, of what these things do, of what damage they inflict.
My hand idly fingers my own wounds beneath the jacket sleeve, along my left forearm, where twenty years ago, I was marked.
A wrench drops, and the clatter rings out through the massive bay. A timid young man picks it up, and we make eye contact. He nods nervously, as if I'm some crux of adulation, and then returns to his vehicle.
Even among my own people I engender fear.
I notice how they avoid their gaze, and I know why. They believed they've failed, and are afraid of reprimand.
I've ruled here with an iron fist, unbending, unyielding, I've demanded nothing less than precision. And like a dictator I've stripped away any semblance of diversity between simple townspeople and hired mercenaries. But many still wear their masks, even with tedious labor, if only to disguise any lingering fear or uncertainty to their leader as he prowls the floor, trawling for the weak.
They don't realize how often that works to my advantage. They're stronger behind the masks, they coalesce into something greater without any fear of recognition or individuality. They become perfectly orchestrated machines.
I leave them to their work, as they seem to take some solace in rebuilding. And, amidst the same sideways glances, walk into the distance down a few winding corridors towards my private office, located in the central hub. It's heavily shielded, for it contains the most precious ware.
The guards on either side of the door acknowledge me with a simple nod, and I enter into the monitor chamber, where a lone desk sits underneath a dome of television screens. Another door situated across the way, my path is straight until...I stand at the threshold to her chamber, and stare into the grooved steel.
With a handprint, it opens with a full breath of wind. My throat burns when I try to take air in the fiery wake.
The environment is a precisely monitored blend of pure oxygen, enough to help fend off what eats at her body, but not enough to cause any long-term oxidative tissue damage. If it's off by more than a single percent, I've threatened to kill those in charge of keeping it so.
Thus, there's a revolving twenty-four hour shift.
I stop and breathe as the door seals shut behind me, and my ears pop from the slight change in pressure.
It's so rich my lungs often have trouble adjusting, and it's like breathing fire for the first few minutes. My sinuses clear, and I start forwards into the void, where, under a few well-placed lights descending from the ceiling, there is minimal furnishing.
Her bookshelf, her own impressive collection, the television, stereo, they're all windows to the world outside. And between them, scattered pictures of her dead family.
Macabre in a sense, but fitting to a girl stolen of her lineage and history, and her life.
My eyes are adjusting to the darkness, and from the distance an object looms large.
My piano, the music maker, my think-tank, my glue, my serenity, where I spent countless hours swaddled within the unassuming passion of Brahms, or a restless and disconsolate Beethoven. Music like fire and blood, it's alive. The meter is its heartbeat, the melody its voice, it cries and laughs...its stirs emotion thought wholly dead.
It has power.
Gleaming midnight ebony, three separate clear-coats gloss your surface and reflect the lights above as stars in a night sky plummeting into nothingness. Like staring into a puddle, another simpler world is mirrored in your form. Besides my daughter, you are the only remnant of my former life, spent as Joseph Hawkins.
As I dwell, as I linger in the recesses of a time long vanished, memories quickly make ghosts of the past.
I can see you there, Rose, as clear as day, holding little Todd in your arms, listening as I play and swaying to the music. Your eyes are closed, and you seem to revel in the harmony that surrounds us and hums across our skin. Long dark auburn hair, glinting gold in the morning sun, layered over your shoulders and touching to your slightly swollen belly, you are so beautiful.
Swelly belly I used to call her, tease her, and I received in turn a stare that burned right through me. But she was a little less sensitive during her second pregnancy.
My hand is steady, slowly reaching out to caress her cheek.
But she suddenly vanishes upon contact, when my mind refuses to fall back into that fantasy. As fast as she appeared, she fades away, and takes her place back in my memory.
I played only for you, and still, play to your restless, haunting spirit. I play for our daughter, and now, for my son.
How he survived the crash, I can't even begin to fathom. After we hit the canyon base, the car twisted, and broke in half before the fuel tank caught fire. He...must have been thrown out through one of the windows...he survived as I did, by sheer damned luck.
If only I knew. I've been away so long, building an underground empire through friendships and less than lawful acquaintances made from my days in the FBI. If only I knew my son was alive, perhaps my life could have been drastically different.
If only I knew...
My search turned up news of a dead three-year-old boy and his mother, and in my grief, of the crash and the creatures who caused it, I fled with Sarah.
I was lied to.
If only I knew.
Perhaps my life...wouldn't be as it is now. I'm spearheading a cause of genocide, partly because of him. Rose's death was to be their harbinger, and Todd's, their total annihilation.
Sweet child, the survivor, the martyr, and the expression made flesh of all my pain.
Behind me and under the brightest, angled light, lies my angel.
My footsteps echo, the only sound among the cavernous room, perfect and measured as I approach my sleeping daughter. She's thin, for twenty-one she looks fourteen. Pale skin under the light looks lunar white, porcelain and just as fragile.
The car seat saved her life, but still, she was cut and bloodied, and left for dead in the cold and rain before I could reach her. At just six months old, simple bacterial pneumonia turned into something more, something rare, something incredibly treacherous, consuming her underdeveloped immune system, and for her entire life, she's struggled with her sickness and a weakened body that betrays an energetic spirit. She's been confined to her bed or a wheelchair, and only has the strength to walk a few steps before her legs give out and she collapses.
The doctors I've seen, specialists from around the world, each gave her until her twelfth birthday to live, but she's outlasted every expectation including mine. The rich oxygen, the sterile, filtered environment, it all helps her to survive.
And she, with her smile and faith, help me to continue on my path.
As I reach the bed, I can better see the blanket of photographs she's buried herself within, and fallen asleep staring at.
Those damned pictures, strewn across her bedsheets, and clenched in her hand. Taken by my best covert operatives, they're surveillance pictures of Todd, and have had her mesmerized for the last week.
I slip a few from between her delicate fingers. They're of my boy, at a gas station, at a drive-thru, and in front of the Eyrie building. I stare too, at my own face worn by someone so young and inherently myopic.
I should never have let her seen these. But I told her, and my people. Better to have the truth come from me than the rumors floating through the ranks, of the leader's traitorous son in league with the very species they've pledged to eradicate. Dissension would brew, and I can't afford to lose control with a dispirited army, and an overzealous second in command breathing down my neck.
Agent White, he wasn't too impressed to say the least, when I pulled our forces out of the gargoyles' very lair, and that I halted the castle's destruction, for the innocents that could be lost, and for my collaborator son. I quieted him by the usual threats of demotion, dismissal, or death, and he backed off, it seems, only to watch and see what I'll do next.
White. He refused to give me his real name when he joined, like most of our people. He was a mystery, tight-lipped, but somehow intimate with our cause, even more than the remaining Quarrymen we recruited. He rose to my right hand because of his skills, his determination that rivaled mine, his ruthlessness, his sheer detachment from any kind of emotion; he stood out among the selected few.
He's anxious, and more than willing to sacrifice all of our people, just as long as every single creature from the city's native clan lies dead. White's holding a grudge, and I don't like that.
And his impatience threatens years of preparation, therefore I've yanked his leash to keep him in line, but it may just prolong an inevitable coup. I know full well of the cliché of the leader being toppled by his most trusted, but I trust no one. If he tries, I kill him, and choose someone new.
I sigh, and rub my hand to my silver temples. A gruesome realization hits me. When did I become so numb to death?
I lean on the bedside for support, and rest weary bones. My eyes fall down, to Sarah, and cleaning the pictures away I straighten her sheets. Then, resting on my knees, I grab her hand in mine and caress frail, alabaster skin.
"Your brother is alive." I whisper to her revelations she already knows. "He's sided with the beasts, the creatures who killed your mother and crippled you."
She doesn't answer of course. She's under the hypnotic embrace of sedatives mixed with her medication, and I think how unfair I must seem.
I often use my little girl as my sounding board. To selfishly unload my soul to someone who either doesn't know the world well enough to argue back, or isn't even conscious to hear.
"I may have to kill him." I add cold-bloodedly.
I'm glad she's asleep, it would kill her to hear me speak like this, plotting to slaughter what little remnants of her family is still left alive. But if my son is allied with the gargoyles, if he won't relinquish this sick allegiance, then...I shudder at the thought.
Black and white, I'm unable to see anything else. There's no middle ground.
Whatever reasons he has to defend the creatures, I hope it's something worth dying for. If he's...enamored with one of these things, in love with her, or it, then I can't imagine a more appropriate sentence.
Black and white, boy, I've pulled back once and only because of the shock of seeing you. But purification can't be impeded, not even by my own blood. For me to continue, I must accept the fact you died, a long time ago.
Our mission, our very purpose must continue. But rather than another all-out and costly attack, that which took over a hundred good, willing people, a new tactic must be played. Taking on those creatures again would be like leading them into a slaughter, the damage they cause, the sheer brutality of their single-minded instincts.They kill and maim without thought...!
Breath rolls, hot and heavy. I see red. I see my bloody past.
And I suddenly realize, I'm clenched; my nails are biting into the palm with my anger having surfaced and broken the placid sea. If it weren't for the calluses, I'd have broken the skin.
Sarah stirs, and I smile down on her, and all the rage, the pain, it all blends into resolve. "What's more damaging than a straightforward attack? When we take away their very security." Old, weather-beaten skin flushes with newfound expectation. Let the indentured government servants do our dirty work. "Let the animals fall to the very people they claim to protect, when they take away the ever protective billionaire. Destroy the roots, and the tree will die."
But, undoubtedly, calling anyone to warn them of an entirely undiscovered sentient species living atop the highest building in the world would probably garner a dial tone even among the recent media rumblings, thus, a more subtle approach is needed.
My cellphone powers up, and assured of its ability to dodge any computer trace, I dial in a number from memory. Funny, I never thought it'd stick with me.
I hope, Sarah, you'll understand what must be done. And Todd, for doing everything I can to collapse your life around you, forgive me son.
"...Federal Bureau of Investigation, how may I help you?..."
I wet my lips. "I want to speak with agent Sykes."
I lost one hundred and three good people to the beasts. Eye for an eye.
****************************************A young boy's bedroom, where David Xanatos reflects upon his destiny, and his son's...
My heir has been betrayed. The father will destroy the son, the son will destroy the father. Which will come true? Which of us will win this struggle for dominance?
As I watch Alexander sleep, I run through my mind rhetorical drivel that somehow perfectly applies to the state of my existence.
But I have betrayed all around me, for what I deem a suitable price, and I think, I believe, I know...I'll most likely die for it.
For the better part of an hour, slumped in this chair I've been watching Alex, sleeping soundly at last. He's been plagued by nightmares, by his own powers trying to burst from his skull.
Fox is dying. And her only son is watching helplessly as she sheds weight by the day, turns a sallow white, and her hair falls from her scalp, littering her bed in clumps.
It's killing him to see his mother like this; they have a unique bond. And I'm sure he can feel what rots away at her tissues, pain and anguish through just a simple touch. For all his power, all he can do is curl up by her bedside and offer her the comfort of a loved one.
He holds vigil faithfully.
And I think, he's examining her. Trying to do anything he can to understand the toxin she's infected with, dissecting her cells with eyes that can see things ordinary humans can only dream of. Sobek has yet to suspect Alex of any sort of ability, the decaying braggart so blinded with his search, and the boy becomes my ace in the hole.
If anyone though, has the strength to see this poison through, it's Fox Xanatos. Not unlike a force of nature, she's fire, sinew, and lightning on the summer plains.
It's always been a chess game between us; a meeting of equals playing the world as our pawns. We were conquerors, brought together by a mutual goal and thirst to stand on a throne six billion strong. Power, riches, immortality, to the victor went the spoils, and we thought there was nothing beyond our control.
But we...I was outthought.
By a simple slip in my guard. How unlike the would-be emperor of the world.
And now my queen slowly dies with the seemingly only cure teased on a string, and pulled just beyond my grasp. I can feel my soul using its atrophied muscles for the first time, and it hurts. Like a mild heart attack.
If I were truly strong, I wouldn't feel anything right now. I shouldn't. In my position, weakness is nothing more than exploitation. Openness is exposure.
Goliath once told me that only someone as I would regard love as a weakness.
Damn him, for his philosophies so different it made me question my own. Indifference, detachment, ruthlessness, all built an empire, and wouldn't allow such frivolities as love, of something like a schoolgirl infatuation to blind my intentions that were once so diamond clear.
And now, I can't help but to see it as a vulnerability that Sobek has taken advantage of all too expertly. My fear has come to pass, and the chink in the armor has been thrust with the tip of a sword. Fox would perhaps want me to let her die, if only for Alexander.
She wouldn't want me to hold on to a memory of what she once was.
But I can't. Weakness or not, I can't let Fox die. I will not. My existence relies on that one weakness, my soul, my heart; such things I thought I had rid myself of to better achieve all that beyond the human sphere of existence.
I am more a man with her by my side, I am invincible, and in some way, have truly become immortal.
What makes a man, my father had asked me once, when all my efforts had come to fruition from a simple tenth century coin, and I reigned over an empire beyond comprehension. I answered, superciliously, power.
And our relationship was never the same.
But, I'm sure old, indomitable Petros sat back in Bar Harbor, waiting for the king to fall from his perch, and truly learn what truly makes him.
I fell, dad.
I landed hard, and learned mortality, humility at the cost of my dignity, and my family.
Drifting my fingers through his hair, I half expect to be burned from the brilliant, inherited red. He burrows in towards the offered hand, and his breathing changes pitch. Somewhere, in the room, a few pieces of furniture move slightly.
Little Alexander, we drift apart. I was your hero, and now all my lies and dealings have tainted the energy field extending from my soul and skin that only you can see. You see pure darkness where once existed a modest stain, and all the secrets I keep have you troubled.
So much power, in such an unassuming vessel.
No wonder Oberon wanted him, the greatness he could bring to the side of the Seelie. But what, what little spark of mixed DNA makes him superior to anything the elfin blowhard has ever seen. Titania's blood is thinned, but potent, but there's something else. Something in his presence here at Wyvern, among creatures fainted with magic and tested to his limits by constant battle; something is making him so much more than he should be.
Owen, strapped to his gurney in the vault, flashing between his human form and fay, babbles about a circle nearing completion. I can't tell whether it's just the iron nanobots in his bloodstream poisoning his sanity, or something far greater. He's been so cryptic about my son's destiny, I can only assume Alex has some grand role in this coming fate.
A chuckle escapes into his flamboyantly painted room, if only it were my genes fueling the fire. How that would stroke an ego as far-reaching as my kingdom. But generations of perfect breeding, descendants of Greek kings and gods themselves, and I just provided the necessary genetic material to create an avatar in my form.
I bred raw material for pure Avalon power to manifest itself a body, and wear its mother's eyes.
I've seen him conquer gravity, rearrange composite molecules, and even mend the very fabric of the universe. And I had nothing to do with it.
Hell, even death can't touch him now.
His link to Sobek makes him immortal; he's achieved by misfortune what I've sought after half my life. He could live forever, see civilizations rise and fall, enslave the world to his will.
But as always, the Weird sisters' spell is a double-edged sword, passed from victim to victim. Through their link, he feels the Egyptian. Living so close, he's aware of him on some unconscious level, but unable to explain why his senses burn with a presence at the back of his mind.
And I become the visible focus of his hatred.
Owen's disappearance, Fox's illness, the clan divided and pained, the attack on his home, I'm somehow at the center of it all.
My head hangs, hands grit, and I'm struggling just to keep from screaming. I want to scream!
But, as I look up, I'm reminded of the virtue of silence. I'd hate to wake him. Or anger him further. Our relationship just teeters on a string already. A single thread.
Threads connect us all, whether it's blood, magic, or duplicity, and we're all going to hang ourselves. I already have.
There's going to be a reckoning, dear Alexander. If I have to die, if you have to kill me, then I welcome death by an emperor's sword, the hand of a Xanatos.
It shouldn't be any other way.
I roll the blanket up towards him, and he shifts again. He murmurs, part of a dream perhaps. And perhaps, through his fay senses, he knows I'm here, astral eyes watching me from anywhere and everywhere.